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CALIFORNIA'S MOUNTAIN LION PROTECTION LAW
- Not as thorough as you think!

In 1990, California voters passed Proposition 117 which, aside from spending money on habitat protection, banned the trophy hunting of mountain lions and labeled them a "specially protected mammal."(1)  Residents assumed this would give mountain lions affluent protection and humane treatment in the state, especially by the California Department of Fish & Game (CDFG) - the agency entrusted to manage wildlife.  Unfortunately, there are no other animals in the specially protected mammal category, and CDFG never wrote any type of official manual for how mountain lions should be managed to uphold this unique title.  Without clearly written policies, confusion, debate and even some very poor decisions have occurred.

The California Department of Fish and Game is primarily concerned with ensuring the public's safety.  As a result, Proposition 117 was written so that lions posing a threat to people, pets, or livestock could still be killed.  The law was also written to prevent poaching and any illegal sale of mountain lion carcasses.  These are the only statues in place to protect mountain lions.  Somehow, this law has been interpreted to work against lions and it even prevents certified animal rescue groups from saving injured mountain lions or any orphaned kittens.

The line in question reads, "It is unlawful to take, injure, possess, transport, import, or sell any mountain lion or any part or product thereof," and goes on to point out that items from before Proposition 117's enactment are still legal to keep as long as "the mountain lion, part or product thereof, was in the person's possession on June 6, 1990."(2)

Clearly, the regulation was written simply to help officers enforce the hunting ban without having to witness a killshot, and it was not intended to prevent organizations from doing what is necessary - and what they are qualified to do - to aid the long term survival of California's only specially protected mammal.  But the above line is currently all that CDFG officers have for reference.  Twenty years ago, lawmakers didn't foresee the complications that would arise from not including a section on protocol for interactions with lions intended to actually help them prosper.  And so until someone writes one, obstacles over what to do with injured and orphaned lions will continue to happen.

To make matters even more convoluted, the guidelines for wildlife rehabilitation centers allow them to "possess and provide care for sick, injured, or orphaned [...] nongame mammals, [and] furbearing mammals," but not any "big game mammals" such as "elk, adult deer, wild pigs, antelope, big horn sheep or bear."(3)  One of the main reasons for this policy is that any medications given to the animal prior to release could be harmful to a hunter when eating the meat.  Despite the fact mountain lions are no longer hunted in California, and according to the law, "shall not be listed as, or considered to be, a game mammal by the department or the commission," they still remain grouped into the big game mammal list of animals that may not be cared for by wildlife rescue facilities.(4)  Whether CDFG has a reason or simply forgot to update this policy, somehow in this case, a nongame animal is treated better than a "specially protected" one. 

Obviously, the system is not perfect.  Even when everyone is doing their job and following the rules they have been given, sometimes the outcome is a disaster.  Unfortunately, in April of 2009 we had to learn this lesson at the expense of traumatizing two innocent kittens (read the story).  However, the situation received national media coverage and may have opened some eyes.  Months after the Solvang incident, a different CDFG regional department allowed a local wildlife group to tranquilize, examine, and release a young lion.  The Department's cooperation with the facility was exemplary, highly praised by the community, and embraced the spirit as well as the letter of Proposition 117.  But the fate of California's lions should not rest on how kind the CDFG is feeling any particular day.  If we want our lions truly "specially protected," we need to demand sound policies from CDFG in writing.

 

References


1. Proposition 117 - The Mountain Lion Initiative
2. CDFG Code 4800, Division 4, Part 3, Chapter 10
3. CDFG Wildlife Rehabilitation Regulations: http://www.dfg.ca.gov/wildlife/rehab/
4. CDFG Code 4800, Division 4, Part 3, Chapter 1



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