Did California Fish and Game wardens do the right thing when they killed a pair of juvenile mountain lions in Half Moon Bay earlier this month?

Nearly everyone who has spoken up about the issue is heartbroken. (And this is one of the town’s most talked about stories of the year, to be sure.) Most, though not all, of our online participants are angry. The lion’s share of the sentiment expressed on Talkabout, in comments about our stories and in letters to the editor, is that wardens made the wrong choice.

The animals were small, an estimated 30 pounds or less. They were young and not the predators they would have become had they been allowed to live. We are the interlopers, after all, having squatted in mountain lion territory long ago. They were not threatening anyone.

So why did they have to die?

Let’s stipulate that these are magnificent animals and that we are privileged to live among them. Known elsewhere as pumas, cougars and catamounts, these big cats live in the remaining wild spaces of the Americas. They may not be at the top of the food chain, but they can surely see it from their hidden perch. As adults, they are nocturnal and hunt alone. Adult males can be 200 pounds or more and measure more than 8 feet long from nose to tip of tail. They are capable of running 50 miles an hour and leaping 18 feet into the air. They are truly awe-inspiring.

They don’t typically attack humans, but they have been known to do so. One jumped a Northern California camper earlier this year.

And that is the problem. Our species has put human life above other forms of animal life. We have killed virtually every kind of animal whenever we perceived a threat. While the young lions sure didn’t seem to be a threat, they were becoming habituated to our neighborhoods. Suppose one returned six months from now and remembered the small children it saw headed for the library. What would the anonymous commenters say then?

Just as we appreciate the lions, we admire our state wardens. We want them to both protect California’s wildlife and its suburban residents. That is a sometimes contradictory challenge. No one wants to see mountain lions killed, and we suspect that is especially true of the men and women who dedicate their lives to the California Department of Fish and Game. They aren’t trigger-happy. They don’t deserve some of the vitriolic criticism they are getting.

Perhaps these animals will not have died in vain if it causes us to rethink state policy that currently seems to preclude relocation of young mountain lions. Maybe our state rangers need some discretion in the field. Maybe we need formal agreements between the state and animal rescue organizations that are willing to assist in in a situation like ours.

This unfortunate incident has given us all the opportunity to learn a little more about the mountain lions among us — and about the ways we might respond to them.

Clay Lambert is the editorial director for Coastside News Group. After years working at regional daily newspapers, he began as editor of the Half Moon Bay Review in 2004.

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(4) comments

John Charles Ullom

Our species has put human life above other forms of animal life.

As do you. if your child was being mauled by an animal or even threatened, and you had a gun, I hope you would know what to do.

Any goat or other vulnerable livestock owner should protect their animals from predators, just as they would a child.

Yep. If predators kill my livestock or child, I would shoot them.

Katie C

RE: "And that is the problem. Our species has put human life above other forms of animal life. We have killed virtually every kind of animal whenever we perceived a threat."
Not only perceived threats, real or not, but we also kill almost every kind of animal for the fun of it as well. If that isn’t enough, we kill mountain lions, bears, coyotes, and wolves because they may kill “game” that we want to kill. It doesn’t matter that we kill the very best and that those predators kill the very weakest. Our trigger- (and bow-) happy species enjoys the killing and any bragging rights. It makes some feel powerful, who otherwise wouldn’t.
Just as licensed wildlife care facilities can and do rehab orphaned fawns, these kittens probably could have been rehabbed and released. Even if raised by their mother, their chances of survival in the wild are slim--doubtful they would have come back for the children.
Bottom line: The killing of these kittens appears to have been justified more from a “convenience” and “expediency” rationale, rather than from sound science or real threat. Lethal force was not justified.
“John” says he’d have broken the law and shot the mother lion (Rescue, CA incident). Any goat or other vulnerable livestock owner should protect their animals from predators, just as they would a child. Anyone putting vulnerable animals at risk should be guilty of “baiting” and prosecuted accordingly with penalties doubled for illegally shooting at protected wildlife.
And we wonder why we have human massacres….

John Charles Ullom

The lion’s share of the sentiment expressed on.... Clay! [wink]

And to kill four mountain lions in exchange for one dead goat hardly seems logical or appropriate.

Wrong math. Cubs will be hungry the next day. Mama Cat has developed a taste fo Gyro meat. Then what?

I had goats. I loved my goats. They have personality and they are intelligent. I would have shot the Mountain Lion too, damn the law.

There is no catch raise and release option for orphaned cubs. Once you catch them, they are doomed to a caged life in a zoo. Just the way it is.

For a "scratch?" There are other recent cases involving mt. lions.

Damn straight. Bear, Lion, Wolf, or even Bull Frog. Any animal that sets up shop in a suburban neighborhood and physically attacks a human being, has to be dealt with. -- https://www.google.com/#hl=en&tbo=d&sclient=psy-ab&q=bear+attacks+woman+during+dog+walk&oq=bear+attacks+dod+wal&gs_l=hp.1.0.0i8i13i30l4.771.5805.0.9155.,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bvm=bv.1355325884,d.cGE&fp=1a3768278019f5af&bpcl=39967673&biw=1440&bih=754

People come first and then some.

Eric Mills

Thank you for a thoughtful column. And you're exactly right, of course. Our overworked and underpaid game wardens are NOT the enemy here. They're generally my heroes, and they deserve our support. It's the DFG's wildlife policies which need changing.

Were this an isolated incident, I would not be so concerned. But there seems to be a pattern here: If it's a problem, kill it. Only last August in El Dorado County, a mother mt. lion and her three nearly-grown cubs were all killed via a depredation permit issued by Fish & Game (soon to be Fish & Wildlife. Me, I'd have preferred "Dept. of Wildlife"--fish are wildlife, too, though we tend to see them only as "seafood"). DFG depredation rules should change from "SHALL" issue the permit to "MAY"--that would give the Dept. more leeway in such cases.

Reportedly, the mother lion in El Dorado Co. killed a single goat to feed her young. The owner notified DFG, and a permit was issued. A federal Wildlife Services agent tracked down the lion family with a pack of dogs, and shot all four out of a tree. The owner of the goat said that he had taken a shot at the lions the day before (illegal!) and may have wounded one of them. Nevertheless, only the mother lion's body was taken in for necropsy, while the bodies of the three dead cubs were left to rot in the field. I thought only the depredating predator was to be shot. Was this legal? The cubs deserved better than this. And to kill four mountain lions in exchange for one dead goat hardly seems logical or appropriate.

There was very little publicity re this incident (See GOOGLE). Had it been widely publicized, as it certainly deserved, I think the public outcry might have precluded the HFM killing, and those cubs would still be alive. The Dept. is very concerned about its image, and rightly so. After all, our state constitution says that wildlife belongs to ALL Californians, not just the hook 'n' bullet fraternity.

Nor should we forget the black bear case in Ojai a few weeks back who (sic) "scratched" the hand of a woman out walking her dogs, attempting to protect her cub. DFG reportedly tried to trap the bears, likely for euthanasia, but changed their tune after public outcry. For a "scratch?" There are other recent cases involving mt. lions.

We can do better than this. One helpful proposal would be to have a rehab facility for mountain lions for eventual return to the wild. See the website of WildRescue and the Mountain Lion Foundation for ways you can help.

Eric Mills, coordinator

P.S. - And the reporter is right about another thing. The anonymity of the internet is a scourge, and allows for all sorts personal attacks, untruths and vile language. Maybe newpapers should require ID for anyone making comments. Just sayin'.

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