Rugged mountains at sunrise.
Text: The editorial voice of the Mountain Lion Foundation.


Lessons not yet learned

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is attempting to push through a controversial "study" that would involve killing significantly more mountain lions over a five-year period to see if they can increase the mule deer population for human hunters to kill.

Over the years, this type of pseudo-science has been carried out in several western states. The excuse is that they [the state game agencies] are carrying out scientific experiments to best determine how to properly carry out their duties as wildlife managers. The more honest game agencies don't even try fooling the public as they eradicate those "pesky" carnivores at the bequest of hunting organizations. Either way the result is the same - lions die so deer hunters won't have to compete with nature.

The battle between mountain lion protection advocates and deer hunters has been going on for a long time. Proof of that can be found in an old column written for the San Francisco Chronicle 48-years ago by columnist Charles McCabe.

It's a sorry state of affairs that almost a half-century has passed and we still haven't learned from the lessons of our past.

Bambi vs. the mountain lion

By Charles McCabe

This column, written by columnist Charles McCabe, originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle on April 25, 1967 and reposted on SF Gate on October 2, 2015

I am not a great advocate of causes. For two reasons: a) I think man should take the consequences of his folly, and (b) I don't think men, on the whole, have the right to believe that their cause is a bigger or better thing than that which their cause proposes to better. Or, more likely, eliminate.

Not that any of this prevents people, including me, from having causes. One of mine often surprises me: the California mountain lion, or cougar. Four years ago it was a species threatened with extinction by California's pointless bounty system.

Under the bounty system, from 1907 until four years ago, California hunters collected from $20 to $60 each for slaying 12,461 mountain lions. A beautiful animal, which is generally accepted as an important part of our wildlife program, was being murdered out of existence.

Four years ago I was part of a little scramble, which got our stout lads in Sacramento to place a four-year moratorium on bounty payments for the slaughter of mountain lions.

This bounty moratorium expires on October 1, 1967. A new bill (Assembly Bill 940) has already passed the lower house. A hearing on it in the California Senate has been requested for today. The bill would replace the four-year moratorium with permanent repeal.

At issue is whether the bounty is to be resumed or discontinued, and perhaps whether the lion will be made a game animal or will be given protection.

The moratorium has worked well. There have been no reports of significant increase of predation in that period. The State Fish and Game Department is for repeal of the bounty, believing that predators have a place in our wildlife program.

Who then is against the repeal? As near as I can figure out, only the deer lovers, those fervent souls who identify this frequently pesty animal with Bambi. The State has an estimated one-and-a-half million deer. In California it's pretty hard to be both a deer man and a lion man. Mountain lion eat deer to death. There are those who say it's a bad thing. Conservationists disagree.

One distinguished conservationist has said a mountain and its flora must live in mortal fear for deer. For these lovely creatures are herbivorous monsters, chewing up the grazing of other species. That has led, in California, to a new and deadly ecological formula.

A mountain lion is killed. Several dozen deer are saved. A game range dies.

The questions that have to be asked about lion-deer ratio are, according to one expert: "How many thousands of acres of game habitat were ruined, or partially ruined, by the deer (and their increase) the lions DID NOT kill? How much damage was done to young forest growth, tree farms, orchards and agricultural row crops by killing deer that were surplus? A deer herd will rebuild itself in two seasons: but a depleted range may not recover in 50 years or more."

In Sequoia National Park it has been found by biologists that "the undamaged deer range definitely corresponds with the best populated lion range." The idea that predators are undesirable pests is now considered archaic and false.

The mountain lion, besides being a useful predator, is a beautiful, lonely thing, a reminder of the wilderness California is destroying on every hand. There are estimated to be 600 of the species left. If you wish the California lion to stay around, let the boys in Sacramento know.

* * * * *

AB 940 passed and the lion bounty moratorium in California became permanent.

23-years later Proposition 117 passed banning the trophy hunting of mountain lions in California and reclassified them as "specially protected mammals."