Early Wednesday morning, awakened by a noise outside his window, a resident in a new subdivision located in the hills above the Southern California community of Fontana, discovered a mountain lion standing over the carcass of his dead 100-pound German Shepherd dog. When local police responded to his call for help they were confronted with an animal that repeatedly returned to the scene until shots were fired at it.
The Fontana Police Department assumed these natural feline actions to retrieve its kill reflected aggressive behavior towards humans and deemed the situation to be a threat to the public health and safety. The police immediately initiated a massive, day-long long search for the offending lion in the surrounding hills. The expensive and ultimately unsuccessful effort eventually involved not only numerous regular duty police officers, but also a helicopter using infrared detection gear, and the Fontana SWAT Team.
A representative of the Fontana Police Department told the Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF) that their intention was never to hunt the lion, but to protect the public. According to Lieutenant Gary Aulif, the Department's efforts originally focused on finding what was assumed to be a wounded animal, but eventually turned into a push to drive the lion up into the wildlands and further away from humans.
While the Fontana police were carrying out their search, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's (CDFW) Mountain Lion Response Guidance Team * was trying to calm down the situation. A CDFW representative informed MLF that they did not consider the situation in Fontana to be a "Public Safety" incident, and stated that CDFW was not involved with the effort to catch or kill the lion.
It was suggested that the initial contact between the mountain lion and responding police officers may have met the "imminent threat" threshold under state law, but that provision no longer was in effect after the mountain lion had fled the immediate area. At that point in time, the actions being carried out by local law enforcement became legally questionable, because they were acting without the expressed authority of CDFW as required by law.
With the fall of darkness, the Fontana Police Department shifted their protection efforts to patrolling the area and searching the nearby hillsides with their helicopter's infrared detection gear. No mountain lion was spotted and as of Thursday morning the search for Fontana's "aggressive" mountain lion was officially called off.
As of last notice, the Fontana mountain lion should be safe from human aggression since it cannot legally be killed under the law's public safety clause, and the kind-hearted pet owner has declined to request a depredation permit to lethally remove the lion for killing his dog.
* Excerpt from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Mountain Lion Management Guidelines
Response Guidance Team:
The Response Guidance Team (RGT) is established to provide assistance and guidance related to policy level decisions only for potential human conflict situations or public safety situations. The RGT will be available to help evaluate a situation and provide personnel to assist as needed. The RGT will consist of the Chief of Wildlife Branch, Chief of Law Enforcement Division, Deputy Director of Wildlife and Fisheries Division, a representative from the Wildlife Investigations Lab, Regional Manager/District Assistant Chief where the activity/incident is occurring, the Deputy Director of the Office of Communications, Education, and Outreach (OCEO), or their named designees.