Appalled that a pair of mountain lion cubs were killed in Half Moon Bay, state Sen. Jerry Hill announced Friday he would put forward legislation that gives state wardens an alternative to such lethal force.
The proposed legislation, titled SB 132, would require state Department of Fish and Wildlife officials to first attempt to subdue a cougar by either capturing, tranquilizing or “temporarily injuring” the animal. State wardens would still have the discretion to kill mountain lions if they present an immediate threat to humans. The bill would also direct wardens to partner with wildlife groups and nonprofits when dealing with the animals. Speaking on Thursday, Hill said he drafted the legislation after speaking to both state wardens and independent wildlife advocates.
“The current guidelines really force (wardens) to kill mountain lions even if humans aren’t at risk,” Hill said. “We wanted to allow the department and wardens to take alternative actions if appropriate.”
Hill held a press conference Friday at the CuriOdyssey wildlife museum in San Mateo. He was joined by Half Moon Bay Mayor Rick Kowalczyk and representatives from the Mountain Lion Foundation and the Felidae Conservation Fund.
“I was very disappointed to learn of the cougar shooting, but I’m pleased that the proposed legislation will lead to better options in the future,” Kowalczyk said.
The new legislation comes after Fish and Wildlife officials faced intense scrutiny over their response to two mountain lion cubs that wandered into a Half Moon Bay neighborhood on Dec. 1. After an unsuccessful attempt to shoo the animals back into the wilderness, wardens made the decision to kill the cats. Officials initially described the animals as a possible threat to the neighborhood, but the animals were later found to be no more than four months old and about the size of housecats.
Top officials with Fish and Wildlife have since expressed regret over the incident, and they pledged to review their policies for dealing with mountain lions. That review should be finished in the next couple weeks, according to a department spokeswoman.
Independent wildlife organizations point to the Half Moon Bay incident to say it’s just one of many longstanding problems in how state wardens deal with mountain lions. The California Fish and Game code directs wardens to kill a mountain lion if it presents a public threat, but it doesn’t mention first trying to pacify or capture the animal. Prior to the Half Moon Bay incident, representatives with the Mountain Lion Foundation say they were urging state wildlife officials to add policies for nonlethal measures.
Following the Half Moon Bay incident, state wardens took those concerns more seriously, said Amy Rodrigues, a staff biologist with the Mountain Lion Foundation, a California-based conservation group. Despite considering non-lethal options, Rodrigues said the state agency remains “a little resistant.”
“Like any agency, they didn’t want their hand to be forced, but they understand where this is coming from,” she said. “They realize they do need help.”
Any direction to subdue and capture more mountain lions would look to dozens of independent facilities to take custody of animals that can’t be released back into the wild. Many facilities, including the local Wildlife Associates in Half Moon Bay, already have approvals to house mountain lions, but taking on any large predator is extremely expensive.
Humanely caring for a mountain lion means giving it ample space, about five pounds of meat a day, and medical care, said Steve Karlin, Wildlife Associates’ executive director. He estimates that cost would run into hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a cougar’s life.
“Nothing is as easy as it sounds in dealing with wildlife,” he said. “It’s not a simple matter of saying, ‘We’ll take it.’”
The Mountain Lion Foundation believes California already has sufficient facility space to accommodate any increase in the number of captured lions as a result of the new legislation.