Cougars and Humans:
who is attacking whom?

Turn out for mountain lion preservation on March 26th - vote NO on Prop. 197

by Kelly Cowan
roposition 197, a mountain lion/cougar "management" bill, will be on the March 26th election ballot. Preying on public fears in the wake of recent highly publicized attacks, it is being represented as a "public safety" and "management" bill. In fact, Prop. 197 is a fraud. The bare bones truth is that Prop 197 is being represented as a solution to cougar attacks primarily because some trophy hunters would like to bag themselves a big cat. (The author of the bill, State Senator Tim Leslie, was voted Legislator of the Year by The Safari Club International, a big game hunting organization. Leslie reportedly fought hard to place this bill on the March primary instead of the November general election.)
Certainly, any issue concerning public safety deserves a fair hearing. Yet, the flurry of misinformation surrounding this issue has given the impression that Prop. 197 will solve the problem. It won't, and as we will see, may actually exacerbate the problem.

Myth-taken beliefs

Many old myths and hunter theories have abounded in this debate, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. Here are a few examples:
There is a sharp increase in human/lion incidents
Proponents of the hunting bill cite 322 "serious" incidents last year. This sounds alarming. But what they don't tell you is that only 100 of those were actually confirmed by the DFG, according to Shura Bugreef, D.V.M., who is studying mountain lions.
Here is a list of all reported mountain lion attacks in North America since 1970:
·Arizona & Alberta, Canada - 2 attacks each
·Texas & Washington - 4 attacks each
·British Columbia - 4 deaths, 20 attacks (incl. Vancouver Island),
·California - 2 deaths, 6 attacks
·Montana - 1 death, 2 attacks
·Colorado - 1 death, 4 attacks
·New Mexico - 1 death
·Nevada - 1 attack.
As one can see, even hunted areas with far fewer residents have experienced recent attacks. Pet losses are also being mentioned, although coyotes take hundreds of outdoor pets each year.

They've lost their fear of humans
There is no empirical data to suggest that cougars ever "feared" humans, only that they generally avoid contact.

Hunting would increase public safety
On the contrary, there is data to show that hunting stimulates population growth and causes young lions to disperse at a much younger age when compared with unhunted populations. Hunting deaths are compensated for by younger lions (who comprise about 25 percent of a population and are implicated in 40 percent of attacks) who benefit from "sport harvests" by allowing these juveniles a better chance at survival. Hunting actually reduces the territorial threat. There's no evidence that hunting would prevent young cats from dispersing into fringe areas. For example, the heavily hunted area of British Columbia has at least one lion per month wandering into human inhabited areas.

They view us as prey
Fourteen deaths attributed to cougars since 1890 in all of North America do not support this assertion.

The population is still growing
Cougar numbers in North America increased after initial protection. However, no data exists to show they are still growing. Like any other wild animal population, cougar numbers stabilize at a local level, depending on available habitat, climate and food availability.
Cougar population figures in recent years have been compared with estimates from the early 70s as testament that lions numbers have grown out of control. While it is true that lions in North America grew during the 70s and early 80s due to protection, it is still unknown to what degree. Even historical range estimates are unreliable because they relied upon hunter field data, compared with the radio telemetry used today. There is no way to know if lions are expanding their range beyond historic estimates. It is certainly safe to assume that where deer occur in California, so do cougars.

They are decimating prey populations (e.g., of deer)
Lions are incapable of decimating a healthy herd of deer. They can increase mortality in an already decimated herd. Deer populations fluctuate naturally, as do cougar numbers, again according to habitat conditions and food sources.

They are overpopulated
Nature crops the surplus. Habitat conditions and food supply regulates the numbers. In addition, lions limit their own numbers through territorial behavior. And the U.S. Department of Fish and Game (DFG) already has the authority to "thin" out a population that has had frequent human/cougar interactions. The only management option unavailable to DFG is the issuance of trophy hunting permits and the use of foot snares.
Depredation, the allowable killing of mountain lions feeding on livestock, is also on the rise. However most livestock taken is due to domestic and wild canines. Depredation permits are often issued by the DFG over the telephone when a rancher calls and reports an incident. He is required to turn the carcass of the lion over to DFG; however, the remains of the animal killed is not.
In some regions, unconfirmed sightings also enter the record. This is particularly troublesome because between 75 to 95 percent of all sightings are false, with other animals being mistaken for cougars. Since 1990 (the year voters banned lion hunting by ballot), these (reported) incidences have shot up.

Hard to manage

Most researchers are aware of the fact that cougars are not susceptible to most forms of wildlife management. Controlling cougars through hunting has produced little or no results.
Increased hunting would probably increase the number of human/wildlife problems. In fact, more human lives would be threatened by increased hunting accidents and overabundant prey populations.
For example, each year, an average of 131 people in the United States are killed in auto collisions with deer. This occurs mostly in states who have decimated their predator populations, allowing the population of deer to expand.
Between the years 1985 and 1993, there were 220 hunting accidents and 23 deaths in California. Each year, an average of 43 people are killed by swarming bees, 14 by dogs and ten by rattlesnake bites. Mortality due to cougar attacks aren't even on the chart.

Cruel and unusual

Hunting mountain lions for sport is not only unnecessary, it is cruel - and not even much of a sport. A pack of radio-collared hounds is set on the trail of the cat until the exhausted cougar seeks refuge in a tree. The trophy hunter (who is often called in from out-of-state after paying fees to the houndsmen) then drives in to blast the animal off the limb at point blank range. Often, the head is severed from the carcass and becomes the "trophy" - stuffed and put on a wall.

Live and let live?

We live in a time when many of our great symbols of the animal kingdom - elephants, rhinos, tigers - have been hunted close to extinction. Here is California, many of our own local symbols - like the grizzly bear (now found only on our state flag), wolf and bald eagle - have suffered the same fate. Thanks to preservation efforts, some are now making a comeback.
The fundamental question we face is: do other species of the animal kingdom deserve a place to live? Or, as our population grows and we encroach on their historical homes, do we simply eliminate them? Because, if public safety is the only consideration, elimination will be the final result. According to experts, only a decimation of the mountain lion population would result in increased public safety. Attacks will continue as long as people live and recreate in mountain lion habitat.

Just do it

The March primary will probably have a small and biased turnout. The pro-197 forces are arrayed to reinstate this trophy hunting boondoggle. Now is the time to cast your vote to decide the fate of the mountain lion.
Great naturalists have often referred to the mountain lion as a symbol of the wilderness. Let's ensure they don't become a symbol of the vanishing wilderness.