Friday, April 10, 2015

There are steps we can take to live with mountain #lions

Posted: Thursday, April 9, 2015 
We joked on Twitter last week that a string of mountain lion sightings ended immediately upon our reporting of the phenomenon in the April 1 newspaper. That turned out to not be true. There were at least two more notices passed along to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office over the weekend.
As nearly all Californians know, mountain lions are the generally reclusive, top-of-the-food-chain predators that live among us here where the Bay Area suburbs meet something wilder. In fact, they inhabit fully half of the state. They are breathtaking animals, by every account, living primarily on deer and other wild animals in our midst.

They are also capable of attacking humans and regularly attack our domestic animals. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife says that it gets hundreds of such reports every year, up and down the exurban spine of the Golden State.

There have been nearly a dozen close encounters on the coast in the last month or so — some of them much too close for comfort, even for people who recognize the lions as the rightful heirs to this land.
Should we be worried about what many on the coast think is an uptick in such sightings? And, if so, what exactly should we do about this?

First, no. Most of us, the vast majority of us, have nothing to worry about when it comes to the big cats. The chance of you running into one on your morning jog is vanishingly small. There was an unsolved sexual battery on the Coastal Trail last month. It received a lot less attention and is a much bigger concern.

That said, mountain lions are a very real threat to those of us with animals in the yard. Ranchers and even those with a spare goat or chickens in the yard are significantly more likely to encounter these amazing, lethal California natives.

Which brings us to the more difficult question: What to do? First, review the good information online from the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Don’t hike or jog at dusk or dawn, stay with your own pack when outdoors. If you encounter a lion, don’t run. Instead, get big. Raise your arms. Pick up small children. Ranchers, too, can take steps to protect themselves. Don’t feed deer, and plant “deer-proof” landscaping. Build sturdy, covered pens for livestock. Bring pet food inside; if it attracts skunks and raccoons, then they might attract lions.

The thorny problem of lions and humans living together may have been complicated by the shooting of two lion cubs in Half Moon Bay a couple years back. People were rightly outraged then. We think trained game wardens — who were onsite at that time — could have relocated those smaller cats without harming them. The incident caused a backlash and a new state law that suggests more discretion for responding wardens who used to have no choice but to kill the animals if they judged an immediate danger.

But we should remember that they aren’t all cuddly cubs and sometimes they really are a danger. No one wants to kill a mountain lion. So let’s close the buffet and do our best to coexist.

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