New Law Could Limit Lethal Force Against Mountain Lions

January 24, 2013

Foster City Patch, San Mateo Patch and Half Moon Bay Patch

By Laura Dudnick
Editor, Foster City and San Mateo Patch

Following the fatal shooting of two mountain lion cubs in a Half Moon Bay neighborhood last year, Sen. Jerry Hill plans to introduce legislation that would urge state officials to use nonlethal options when responding to similar incidents.

Hill will introduce the legislation at a news conference Friday morning at the CuriOdyssey wildlife museum in San Mateo.

The new law would call for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to partner with wildlife groups when responding to mountain lion sightings, to possibly tranquilize and capture the mountain lions instead of killing them.

Current state regulations don't give the department much flexibility when mountain lions venture into areas populated by humans, according to Hill's office.

Hill’s legislation will authorize the department of fish and wildlife to partner with wildlife groups and nonprofits when responding to such incidents if there is no imminent threat to human life.

The incident involving the two mountain lion cubs sparked debate as to whether mountain lions should be killed when in areas populated by humans.

On Nov. 30, 2012, two sibling mountain lion cubs were spotted in the 800 block of Correas Street in Half Moon Bay near Burleigh Murray Ranch State Park.

The lions, which fish and wildlife officials initially said weighed 25 to 30 pounds, were fatally shot on Dec. 1, 2012, after game wardens and San Mateo County sheriff’s deputies were unable to shoo them out of the neighborhood.

Necropsies showed the female lions were only about four months old, weighed 13 to 14 pounds, and were starving and unlikely to survive in the wild without their mother.

Wildlife groups from around the state have responded to such incidents with calls for change. A petition by animal aid group Wildlife Emergency Services urging the department of fish and wildlife to change its ways has already received more than 1,000 signatures.

Hundreds of mountain lion sightings are reported every year in California. The reports range from simple sightings in the wild to the presence of lions in developed areas.

Officials say attacks on humans are rare. The incident in Half Moon Bay in December, however, marked the second mountain lion shooting by a state game warden in San Mateo County in as many years.

Following the Half Moon Bay incident, wildlife advocates have met with department of fish and wildlife officials to come up with protocols to avert the shootings of mountain lions, which are “specially protected mammals” under Proposition 117, approved by voters in 1990.

The department's rules, however, clearly state, "When evidence shows that a wild animal is an imminent threat to public safety, that wild animal shall be humanely euthanized (shot, killed, dispatched, destroyed, etc.)," according to Hill's office.

The way the guidelines are written, on-the-ground responses treat any situation where a lion "might somehow" come into contact with a human -- no matter how unlikely – as a situation of "imminent threat,” Hill's office reported.

The nonlethal procedures state officials will be required to utilize under Hill’s legislation include capturing, pursuing, anesthetizing, temporarily possessing, temporarily injuring, marking, attaching to or surgically implanting monitoring or recognition devices, providing veterinary care, transporting, hazing, relocating, rehabilitating, and releasing.

The legislation, however, still provides the department with the authority to kill mountain lions if the lion can reasonably be expected to cause immediate death or physical harm to humans.

The legislation also clearly authorizes the department to develop partnerships with veterinarians, scientists, zoos and other individuals and organizations to work with state game wardens when mountain lions wander too close to humans.

And local agencies can help. The Peninsula Humane Society, which rescues and rehabs injured and orphaned native wildlife, saved the lives of 1,450 wild animals last year in San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties.

“The safety of Californians is priority number one, but the law needs to be changed to give wardens more nonlethal options when dealing with the increasing number of mountain lion encounters in our neighborhoods,” Hill said in a statement.

"Californians value mountain lions as the last remaining apex predator in the state; contributing substantially to environmental health. Senator Hill's legislation reflects those values and will help to ensure that mountain lions remain in the wild for future generations to appreciate," said Tim Dunbar, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation.