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Calif. fighting mountain lions with pamphlets

Mountain lions made the news earlier this week when California Department of Fish and Game officials confirmed a July 1 attack on a 63-year-old man.

According to the agency's news release, the unidentified man was sleeping under the stars near a tributary of the Yuba River when the cat attacked. It bit and clawed at the man through his sleeping bag for a couple of minutes before running away.

The injuries weren't life threatening, and the man was able to drive himself to a hospital and receive treatment for what investigators called "severe scratches and puncture wounds."

This most recent incident marked the 15th attack in California in the past 122 years, but the 10th since 1990, when mountain lion hunting was banned in the state.

Let's see - five attacks in the 100 years between 1890 and 1990, and 10 in the 22 years since 1990. That's a rate of one attack every 20 years before cougar hunting was banned, and a rate of one attack every 2.2 years since the ban took effect.

Now I'm no rocket scientist, but even I can see that the rate of attacks today is nine times as high as it was before lawmakers succumbed to pressure from animal-rights lobbyists and enacted the ban.

The absence of hunting has caused mountain lion numbers to expand significantly. From an estimated 2,000 cats in the 1970s, the population has grown to an estimated 5,000 today.

It takes eight to 10 pounds of meat a day to sustain a full-grown mountain lion. Most of that comes from deer, small mammals and livestock. Studies have shown that a mature lion kills a deer every two weeks or so.

Not surprisingly, mule deer and white-tailed deer populations in the Golden State suffered as mountain lion numbers grew. That's something to be concerned about, for sure, but not a critical factor in arguments for hunting to resume.

Public safety is the primary concern.

California has a lot of active people who like to hike, bike, jog, camp, fish, and generally enjoy the outdoors. With all those people moving about, encounters with lions are inevitable.

Since lions aren't hunted anymore, they have little fear of humans. Without that fear, it's easy for hungry cats to view joggers as moveable feasts, or mountain bikers as meals on wheels.

State officials seem to believe this problem is best addressed by issuing pamphlets that give helpful tips for outdoors enthusiasts who live in lion country.

They include:

  • Do not hike, bike, or jog alone. (Sound advice, but is it really practical?)
  • Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active - dawn, dusk and at night. (This would work well if people didn't have to work for a living. Not really practical for someone who works 9 to 5.)
  • Keep a close watch on small children. (This is actually good advice; lions prefer to attack prey close to their own size.)
  • Do not approach a mountain lion. (Duh!)
  • If you encounter a mountain lion, don't run. (What about an unseen lion that has set up an ambush along a hiking or biking trail?)
  • If attacked, fight back. (Also good advice.)
  • If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911. (Duh again!)
  • And to homeowners who might not want cougars prowling their back porches, California authorities suggest they do everything they can to discourage deer from coming around.

    Wouldn't it make more sense to institute a controlled hunting season designed to shrink the mountain lion population - not too much, just a little - and to restore a healthy fear of man to those magnificent animals?


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