On August 17, 2012, USDA/Wildlife Services employee John Chandler set his hounds on the trail of a mountain lion in the foothills of California's Sierra Nevada Mountains. Chandler was responding to a request from a Rescue, California resident to track and kill a lion that had preyed on a goat. A few hours later the hounds came upon a mother and three juvenile mountain lions. Reports of all that took place at this point have not been forthcoming from authorities, but by 8:00 that morning all four lions had been killed by Chandler, and the carcasses of the three young lions may have been left to rot in the forest.
For the most part the incident was just another routine depredation hunt by a Wildlife Services employee. These kills are not unusual, although they are often unnecessary and usually avoidable. As far as the Mountain Lion Foundation can tell more than 100 mountain lions are killed each year in California under the California Department of Fish and Game's (CDFG) current depredation permit practices and procedures.
Mountain lions are classified as a Specially Protected Mammal in California as a result of Proposition 117, a 1990 citizen-sponsored statewide ballot initiative. The initiative banned mountain lion hunting for sport. The same law allows pet and livestock owners to take immediate action or to request the issuance of a Depredation Permit from CDFG when a mountain lion is "pursuing, inflicting injury to, or killing" their domestic animals. Once a depredation permit has been issued taxpayers usually have to cover the cost of having a professional hunter track down and kill the lion.
According to Tim Dunbar, Executive Director of the Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF), "the depredation section of Proposition 117 was crafted to assure those few California citizens who experience conflict with mountain lions that their right to protect their pets and livestock would not be circumvented. But it was also designed to ensure that the law couldn't be used to kill innocent lions."
MLF claims that Chandler ignored several specific requirements of Proposition 117 when he shot and killed the three juvenile mountain lions. "The owner of the slain goat was within his legal rights to request a depredation permit," said Mr. Dunbar," and to have a hunter track and kill the offending lion. But, the Mountain Lion Foundation objects to the illegal slaughter of three additional lions as well as Chandler's failure to collect and deliver their bodies to CDFG for necropsy as is required by law."
The Mountain Lion Foundation has requested that Charlton Bonham, Director of the California Department of Fish and Game, initiate a formal investigation of both Mr. Chandler's actions and the incident's management by CDFG field staff. Depredation permits are intended to be issued prior to any action, except in those rare situations where a lion is caught in the act and engaged in immediate pursuit. In the case of the Rescue lions, the permit was issued the day after the required site visit, and five hours after the four lions were killed. Furthermore the delayed permit also included special instructions authorizing the killing of all four lions. In Mr. Dunbar's opinion, "this was an obvious attempt on the part of CDFG to justify the potentially illegal actions already taken by Mr. Chandler."
According to Mr. Dunbar, "This tragedy is indicative of the culture of indifference towards California's mountain lions that is pervasive throughout the entire department. There has long been an underlying resentment toward lions on the part of some departmental staff who see Proposition 117 as a usurpation of their authority. Usually depredation kills go by unnoticed. This time we were lucky that the permit holder told his story to a local reporter. Because of CDFG's decision not to comply with state law and properly record all mountain lion deaths, we have no idea how many times such violations have taken place, or even how many lions have actually been killed over the past seven years. CDFG appears to be so busy trying to duck its responsibilities that it can't do its basic job: protecting California's wildlife."
MLF's own research indicates that at least 2,403 mountain lions have been killed in California as a result of depredation permits since the passage of Proposition 117 in 1990. CDFG has acknowledged in the past that their depredation tally is not only years out of date, but also woefully inaccurate. This is despite a state law requiring an annual accounting of all mountain lion mortalities to the legislature. The Department recently tried unsuccessfully to have this particular report included in Governor Brown's list of unnecessary or duplicate agency reports.
Recent scientific studies have demonstrated conclusively that killing mountain lions for depredation does not solve the problem, and may in fact create greater risks for people, pets and livestock. The only real solution when living in mountain lion country is to apply common sense and good animal husbandry practices. When night falls, bring pets indoors and protect small livestock in fully enclosed barns or pens.
"Unfortunately for the other residents of El Dorado County," said Mr. Dunbar. "rather than taking appropriate measures to protect his goats with an inexpensive covered livestock enclosure, like those detailed on our website, the permit holder went out and bought a gun instead: and left taxpayers on the hook to pay not only for the hunt of these four lions, but for the incident that's sure to follow."
For more information on Proposition 117, protecting people, pets and livestock; or free plans and instructions of lion-proof small livestock enclosures: check out the following links or visit www.mountainlion.org