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Mountain lions aren't the problem

Santa Barbara News-Press 19 January 2004


Whenever the media's mob instincts kicks in to vilify a particular species, the danger exists that incomplete reporting eventually may lead to new government policies that take aim at those creatures.

This time, mountain lions in California are the target of overblown news reports. Amateur hunters and the gun lobby would love to exploit the recent incidents involving people and a mountain lion in Orange County as a ploy to legalize the shooting of these cats.

But Californians know that mountain lions, also known as cougars, aren't hunting trophies to be shot in blood sports.

Voters in 1990 passed Proposition 117, a ballot measure that put on the books the unofficial 17-year state policy that banned the "sport" hunting of mountain lions. Lions lived for the first half of the 20th century in California with bounties on them until more enlightened policies prevailed.

But Republican legistlators, acting as pawns of hunting and gun interests, used an incident between humans and cougars in 1994 to put a measure on the ballot that would have paved the way to repeal the ban and allow the state Department of Fish and Game more leeway to "manage" the species.

Once again, Californians took the humane action and defeated Proposition 197 in 1996.

We hope those who want to kill mountain lions have learned from this defeat to put such efforts to rest.

No real proof exists to suggest that mountain lions in general have lost their fear of people and are more aggressive.

Even using statistics to compare the number of incidents between humans and mountain lions today and decades past is fraught with difficulties. Tens of millions more people live in California.

If anything, one would expect a surge in the number of incidents because of the state's population boom.

One of the lessons from this month's incident in the wilderness near Mission Viejo is that humans should do more to minimize the dangers of encountering mountain lions. Hikers, bikers and other people in cougar territories should learn the best ways not to provoke them.

Humans in California and the rest of the West continue to encroach on the habitats that cougars depend on to survive. Remember that these creatures were here first, and act accordingly to reduce the chance of having problems with them.

California's big cats are nature's trophies - to be protected, admired from a distance and otherwise left alone.