Mauled Cyclist’s Family Drops Lawsuit

Mauled Cyclist’s Family Drops Lawsuit

Parents of the O.C. man killed by a cougar in 2004 had focused on safety. Mountain bikers say they know the risks.

By Rachana Rathi
Times Staff Writer

The parents of a mountain biker who was killed by a cougar last year in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park will drop a wrongful-death lawsuit against Orange County because of numerous protests from cyclists.

Mark Reynolds, a 35-year-old Foothill Ranch resident, was mauled by a mountain lion while he crouched to fix his bicycle along Cactus Ridge Trail on Jan. 8, 2004.

Dona and Gary Reynolds of St. Joseph, Mo., had filed the lawsuit March 16, alleging that the county should have known the park was dangerous because mountain lions were present.

However, after news of the lawsuit spread last week, more than 25 messages on the Mark J. Reynolds Memorial Foundation website Friday urged the family to drop the lawsuit, saying cyclists understand the risks of biking in wilderness parks.

“Our intention was not to upset his friends, fellow bikers, biking clubs and national biking associations, biking-related com- panies, nor the trails in which the enjoyment of biking prevails,” the Reynoldses said in a statement Saturday.

Grant Curtis, former president of the SHARE Mountain Bike Club, which maintains the single-track riding trails in Orange County, said the family’s “lawsuit was well-intentioned, just not completely informed.”

“We asked [Dona Reynolds] collectively as a group … to drop the lawsuit, knowing that we understand the risks involved in the sport,” Curtis said.

The afternoon of Reynolds’ death, the same mountain lion attacked another bicyclist. Anne Hjelle, 30, of south Orange County was rescued by her riding companion and other trail bikers as the cougar dragged her by the head into the brush.

Later that day, sheriff’s deputies shot and killed the 110-pound mountain lion responsible for the attacks.

Wildlife experts say 4,000 to 6,000 adult mountain lions live in California, including about half a dozen in the Whiting Ranch park area. Reynolds’ death was the state’s sixth recorded mountain lion fatality and the first since 1994. There have been 20 cougar attacks since 1986.

As a result of two attacks in 1986, rangers log cougar sightings, and signs are posted at entrances of all county parks: “Mountain lions may be present and are unpredictable. Be cautious. They have been known to attack without warning. Your safety cannot be guaranteed.”

DNR: Cougar not to blame for dead deer

DNR: Cougar not to blame for dead deer

Residents in White Lake and Commerce townships don’t have to worry about cougars roaming the area, authorities said.

After two recent incidents – deer carcasses found 5 and 10 feet high in trees in both townships – concerns arose about whether a cougar was responsible for the dead animals.

The remains of a deer discovered in the wooded area near Oakley Park and Commerce roads in Commerce showed no evidence linking the death to a cougar, police and Michigan Department of Natural Resources said.

A similar case reported in White Lake just weeks after- where a man found a deer carcass in a tree near Sharon Drive off Elizabeth Lake Road with claw marks on it – also proved to be the work of someone or something other than a cougar.

“Our biologist (Julie Oaker) went out and took a look at it, and she is reporting that it is nothing more than a poached fawn that somebody tossed up there,” said Ray Rustem, a biologist with the Wildlife Division of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

“The tracks that were seen on sight were dog tracks and the feces were also identified as canine. Nothing more came out of that. It definitely wasn’t a cougar.”

This came after several reports of large cat-like animals reportedly seen in Rochester Hills recently.

Other sightings of what could be cougars have been reported this past year in White Lake, Highland and Orion townships.
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Did cougar stash deer?

Of The Daily Oakland Press

COMMERCE TWP. – The carcass of a deer found 10 feet high in a tree has residents concerned that a cougar may be roaming Commerce Township.

In the wooded area near Oakley Park and South Commerce roads, Donna O’Connell said neighborhood children found the deer remains and brought them to her attention with suspicions that a cougar killed it.

This comes after three reports of a large catlike animal in Rochester Hills recently.

“Where they saw it, (the deer) it’s like my own back yard, and I saw it up in the tree myself,” O’Connell said. “When we got it down, there was no blood on the deer. But on its back, there were some claw marks, some hair missing and puncture wounds.”

O’Connell said she and other residents checked for gunshot wounds but found nothing that indicates this was the act of a human.

She said she believes a cougar suffocated the deer and then dragged the corpse up a tree so it could be eaten later.

“I called the police, the (Department of Natural Resources) and the Oakland County Sheriff to come out here and look at it,” O’Connell said. “But nobody can give us an explanation of what actually happened. We believe something is out there, and people need to know.”

Ray Rustem, supervisor of the Natural Heritage Unit at the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, said it’s unusual for cougars to take their prey up into trees, but he’s not ruling out the possibility.

“I won’t say it couldn’t happen,” Rustem said. “But they typically keep the carcass of the animal on the ground and will cover it with debris and leaves.”

Patrick Rusz, director of the wildlife program at the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, said he has investigated reports similar to O’Connell’s and finds it hard to believe a cougar did this.

“Most likely, it was a human, but anything’s possible,” he said. “Sometimes, there can be a natural explanation. Maybe it took a leap and hung itself. That would be a one-in-a-million occurrence, but deer certainly can jump 10 feet high.”

Rusz said when people see animals resembling cougars on television carrying their prey into trees – like leopards – they assume the cougar will do the same.

He said it’s hard for anyone to determine if a cougar is responsible for this incident.

While there have been sightings verified by video cameras in areas like Monroe County, most occurrences take place during the warmer months, according to Rusz, which makes it difficult to obtain evidence on whether cougars remain in the area.

“What they’re asking for is close to impossible. You’re literally dealing with a here-today, gone-tomorrow-type animal,” he said. “Cougars can roam 400 square miles in a day. It’s easy to say you’ve seen one, but it’s hard to verify because they can be 20 miles away in a matter of hours.”

The largest population for cougars is in Western states, such as California. Michigan does have a small population in the north, and Rusz said there have been few findings in southern Michigan.

He said a majority of the sightings are attributable to transient cougars, which roam from state to state in search of mates.

Female cougars are traditionally known as resident cougars, meaning they are less likely to roam different areas.

“The real question people should be asking is if there are some resident cats in southern Michigan, some that have established territory,” Rusz said. “We’ve got a long way to go in understanding our cougar population in the state, but people really shouldn’t be that worried.

“While cougars are dangerous animals, statistically, the chance of a human attack is close to zero because cougars feed on white-tail deer, which have a large population in Michigan.”

Other sightings of what could be cougars have been reported this past year in White Lake, Highland and Orion townships.

Possible cougar sightings also have been reported in southern Wayne County and eastern Livingston County.

When Balance is Not Enough

When Balance is Not Enough

What purpose do the mountain lion and other major predators serve? These animals are at the top of the food chain. They do not provide food for other, larger creatures. They do not carry pollen, or provide us with oxygen, as do some insects and plants. With a shrug, we respond with words recalled form high school biology: Predators contribute to the balance of nature. But balance is not enough. An empty scale will balance.


The value of predators, large and small, is complex and commonly misunderstood. Predators, even those at the very top of the food chain, play a vital role in sustaining other animals and plants within their range. Consider this real world illustration of that principle.

When the Panama Canal was dug, a new lake rose in Central America. As waters rose, a hillside, rich with wildlife, was isolated as the surrounding lowlands flooded. The Smithsonian Institution recognized the value of this unique island, where research might demonstrate the effects of isolating small pieces of habitat.

Cougars soon disappeared from the new island. This was no surprise, since lions require such a large territory for even a single animal. Over the years, a catastrophic series of local extinctions occurred. By 1970, forty-five species of birds had disappeared from the island.

Scientists Joyhn Terborgh and Blair Winter hypothesized that surging populations of mesopredators (carnivores one step down from the largest and most dominant), over-populated because they were no longer subject to predation by, or in competition with, large carnivores. With so many additional animals feeding upon bird eggs and nestlings, bird populations plummeted.

Lion walking through dense woodlands.

In addition, the number of plant varieties found on the island diminished, and soon it became difficult to find young saplings of the canopy trees. Again, researchers traced the changes back to the loss of large predators. Populations of herbivores exploded, and fell upon the flora of the island with a vengeance, tugging up young saplings for their tender leaves, devouring all of the individuals of whole species that had inhabited small niches.

What about the middle-sized mammals in their new, and relatively “safe” situation. Without large predators to cull the weaker, older, and disease prone animals, several generations are born and pass on less hardy genes. But when food becomes scarce as a result of prey extinctions and over-populations, some species, despite their increased numbers, find themselves at a genetic disadvantage, unable to compete, subject to epidemics, and prey to more viable or adaptable species. As the ecosystem crashes, these middle species, too, may disappear.

In the approach to environmental conservation known as “rewilding,” large predators like the mountain lion are counted as “keystone” species. In summarizing The Role of Top Carnivores in Regulating Terrestrial Ecosystems, leading biologists John Terborgh, conclude that “our current knowledge about the natural processes that maintain biodiversity suggests a crucial and irreplaceable regulatory role of top predators. The absence of top predators appears to lead inexorably to ecosystem simplification accompanied by a rush of extinctions.”

Eventually, nature balances. But on a scale of diversity, balance without predators carries much less weight. Fewer species occupy fewer ecological niches. It is a balanced environment, but a much poorer one, severely degraded by the cascading losses, right down to the birds and flowers, caused by missing carnivores.

Mother cougar carrying kitten.Humans in the ecosystem tend not to perceive themselves as interdependent with the natural environment. Regardless, natural substances, derived from a diverse planetary flora and fauna, form the basis for much of our science, agriculture and industry. Natural systems contribute to the quality of the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the foods we consume. We turn to natural landscapes for recreation and renewal.

Large carnivores have a tremendous symbolic value: they personify the wild. Humans have been gifted with a special ability to appreciate diversity beyond mere survival. We value wilderness aesthetically. We mourn the loss of the grizzly and the wolf, and memorialize them on flags and t-shirts.

And yet, even in California where cougars are protected, wild cougars are killed in relentless pursuit of public safety and protection of domestic animals. Their range is fenced off with policies as rigid and pointed as any barbed wire.

At some point we must take the time to reflect on the worth of wildness. At what price can we imagine a world entirely empty of natural threats, a “safe” suburban Serengeti?

Perhaps it is in this realm of human and carnivore interactions that the concept of re-wilding has the greatest value. For example, the vast territories required by carnivores force biologists, land use planners, and government decision-makers to take the larger view, to preserve bigger tracts of land, to connect reserves by corridors, and thus to limit urban and suburban sprawl.

A more progressive approach to addressing environmental problems will recognize the value of mountain lions, and will make a commitment, not only to their survival, but to their dominance upon our remaining natural landscape.


Moonrise over a barren mountaintop.

Stalking mountain lion killed on Mount Lemmon

Stalking mountain lion killed on Mount Lemmon

Stalking mountain lion killed on Mount Lemmon


TUCSON — A mountain lion that stalked, chased and threatened two mountain bikers on Mount Lemmon Saturday was shot and killed by state wildlife authorities May 16 when they, too, were stalked while investigating the incident.
The 70-pound mountain lion was sent to the University of Arizona Veterinary Diagnostic Lab for rabies testing Monday. It was determined to be an 18-month-old, non-lactating female in good condition, according to a press release from Arizona Game and Fish.

“We have a high level of confidence that we shot the mountain lion that threatened the two mountain bikers, as well as two wildlife officers,” said Gerry Perry, who is the supervisor of the department’s Tucson regional office. “We can’t say for sure that this mountain lion was one of the Sabino Canyon mountain lions causing problems this past year, but its behavior fits the pattern and it was located just a few miles from the former closure area.”

The mountain bikers, Jeremy Roggow and Omar Romero, both of Tucson, reported to Game and Fish Department officers that they were riding down the Green Mountain Trail on Mount Lemmon Saturday evening. Roggow says he saw a mountain lion running about 15 feet behind Romero and outpacing him.

According to the report Roggow shouted a warning to Romero, who got off his bike and began throwing rocks at the lion.

Roggow then joined Romero and the two used their bikes as a shield against the animal. They described the lion as crouching, tail down, and slowly crawling toward them. The men also say they shouted at the lion and continued to hit it with thrown rocks, but say it showed no fear and kept coming. Eventually, the two men say the lion ran off after being hit by rocks in the neck and ribs.

Roggow and Romero called 911 after returning to their homes on Saturday night and were referred to the Game and Fish Department.

The following day, two Arizona Game and Fish Department wildlife officers hiked the Green Mountain Trail area to investigate.

Officers Hans Koenig and Aaron Hartzell hiked about a half-mile from the Hitchcock Campground looking for tracks and other sign. During the return trip to the campground, they heard rustling and saw a mountain lion crouched in the brush 10 yards off the trail. The officers shot the mountain lion, which had been stalking them.

“As we hiked down the trail back to the campground, I saw that one of our boot tracks in the dirt had a fresh mountain lion track on top of it. The cougar had apparently followed us up the trail. It was a dangerous situation,” Koenig said, a 15-year wildlife management veteran.

This incident highlights the need for outdoor enthusiasts to stay alert to their surroundings and to travel in pairs when possible.

“These two mountain bikers did it right. They didn’t run,” says Perry. “They stayed facing the mountain lion. They yelled and threw rocks at it and finally drove it away.”

For information about mountain lions in Arizona and what people should do if they encounter one, visit the department’s Web site at

Running Scared

Despite uneasiness over cougars, runners are still drawn to foothill trails

By James Raia– Special To The Bee – (Published April 23, 2004)

COOL – A few minutes’ drive past the firehouse and a row of storefront businesses, the gated hamlet of Auburn Lake Trails extends into the rolling foothills toward the El Dorado National Forest.

Large wooden markers with white block letters replace green metal street signs and designate names such as Grouse Ridge Trail, Big Nugget Trail and Gravel Gulch Court. At the community’s boundary, expansive homes, asphalt roads and horse stables end and Secret Lake Trail merges into a trailhead. A half-mile farther, the route intersects the Western States Trail.

On foot, it’s 85 miles to Squaw Valley and 15 miles to Auburn. It’s also a 20-minute walk on a single-track winding trail to a monument built into the side of the hill. It overlooks the vastness of the American River Canyon and the middle fork of the American River. It’s called “Barb’s Bench.”

Ten years ago today, Barbara Barsalou Schoener of Placerville was killed by a mountain lion as she ran alone on one of her favorite trail routes, an 18-mile journey that began at Auburn Lake Trails. She was the first person killed in California by a mountain lion in 85 years, and in the previous 1909 case the deaths were caused by rabies.

Schoener, 40, a wife, mother of two children, businesswoman and long-distance runner, had completed her first ultramarathon a month earlier, a rugged 50K event that included much of the same trail. She enjoyed the canyon’s serenity and beauty, often driving there from Placerville to run.

No one saw the mountain lion attack Schoener the morning of her fatal encounter. Authorities surmise the animal jumped her from behind. She fell down a slope, where the mountain lion launched its final attack and then buried her under debris.

Schoener’s husband, Pete, worried when his wife didn’t return home and he reported her missing. Search and rescue crews scoured the area that day, but didn’t find her.

The next morning, about a quarter-mile east of where the bench sets today, three veteran ultra-distance runners noticed a rubber visor and plastic water bottle oddly positioned down a steep embankment in secluded brush and a fallen tree. They investigated.

What they discovered were Schoener’s remains.

“In some ways, it almost would have been better if it had been somebody who killed Barbara, a homicide,” said Greg Soderlund, race director of the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run and Way Too Cool 50K, two popular endurance events held on the trail. “It would have been easier to understand.

“But it was worse that it was a cougar because it changed (things for) all for us. It really did. The innocence was gone. These animals could not only hurt you, they could kill you.”

Statewide, there have been 14 cougar attacks on humans, including six fatalities, since 1900, according to the California Department of Fish and Game. The latest death occurred last January in Orange County, when mountain biker Mark Reynolds was attacked while on a ride.

In each instance, the attack or death has prompted extensive media attention and passionate attempts to determine a reason.

Have humans encroached on mountain lions? Are the animals losing their fear of humans? Have there been more attacks since the passage of Proposition 117 in 1990, which designated mountain lions as “specially protected mammals”?

Moreover, has the increased awareness of mountain lions changed the habits of outdoors enthusiasts or those living in or near mountain lion habitat?

“I guess I am just not relaxed out there anymore,” said Pete Schoener, a decade after his wife’s death. “I’ll go elsewhere, even up by Carson Pass in the summertime. I will go and (run) 10 or 12 miles by myself. No problem. But if I go out to Cool, I’m just kind of turning my head all of the time. I hear little sounds. It’s not comfortable and it’s not enjoyable.”

Pete, who in 1990 completed the Western States 100 from Squaw Valley to Auburn, is now raising his and Barbara’s two active teenaged children. Both are sports-minded, but not as runners. They’ve been to their mother’s bench, but the family doesn’t discuss the tragedy often.

Yet, when friends ask to visit the memorial, Schoener will oblige.

“We go out there and sit and think about it,” he said. “I haven’t done it in awhile, but I have no problem with it. When my daughter was in second grade, we took out a small potted plant and left it there. Those kinds of things through the years make you feel better, but it’s still kind of hard.”

The bench was built by friends and aquaintances a month after Barbara’s death. They brought shovels and wheelbarrows, hauled in cement and chucks of granite, built several steps and the bench, and installed a plaque in her honor.

Today, there are potted plants, cultivated wildflowers, myriad trinkets and even a small, faded American flag draped across the monument.

For Kurt Fox of Meadow Vista, one of the runners who discovered the body, discussing the incident is still emotional.

He’s had sleepless nights and difficulty trying to understand what he and his friends, Ernie Flores and Russ Bravard, found. He credits counseling he received a year later while recovering from testicular cancer as very beneficial.

“My kids don’t go there,” said Fox, 42, a veteran ultramarathon runner. “I think it changed the actions of people for the first three years. But I still go out there by myself. I don’t know why. I still run by myself. After that, you’d think you’d be smarter than that.

“But I do know that I’ve passed women on the trails by themselves – a lot. I think some of it has to do with, ‘It’s not going to happen to me.’ And some of it has to do with not educating ourselves.

“We address it at our house and my wife now goes out with a dog and friends or at least one friend. But overall, I don’t think it’s changed much,” Fox said. “When I see the young women out there all I can think to myself is, ‘If you would have seen what I saw, you would take more concern about where your are.’ ”

Many experts believe the confrontations between cougars and humans are so unusual there’s not enough data to form theories or offer solutions.

“It’s a tough situation because these attacks are so rare and infrequent given the number of people who are out there,” said Steve Torres, a Department of Fish and Game wildlife ecologist. “There are theories that (mountain) lions are losing their fear of people. But my feeling about that is that there is more data to suggest that’s not true. They’re cryptic animals.

“I’ve been in this business long enough to know that theories and speculations are pervasive, and people are very passionate and opinionated about these issues,” Torres said. “But I think it’s important to recognize that they are speculations, and to point out to people that there are no easy answers and there are no solutions like hunting, for example, that would guarantee that there would be no more incidents.”

For a decade, including the time of Schoener’s death, Torres was the department’s statewide coordinator of mountain lion and bighorn sheep management. He was at the scene of Schoener’s attack and held the cub of the cougar identified as the killer, which was tracked down and destroyed.

“Certainly, there are more and more people in the outdoors, we know that,” he said. “But every time a mountain lion does cross that threshold of familiarity with people, it’s killed. That’s not contributing to the population, and it’s not contributing to genetics. So I think the arguments for mountain lions being more aggressive is kind of murky.

“Are they (mountain lions) indeed getting more used to people at a behavioral level where they lose their fear of them and something snaps and they can consider people prey? It’s an interesting hypothesis,” said Torres, “but still attacks are so rare that I don’t see that as something there’s any evidence for in California.”

Helen Hull of Sacramento has trained on the Sierra Nevada foothill trails for many years. She’s run more than 80 ultramarathons, including the Western States 100 four times.

“Barbara’s attack did change my comfort out on the trail, especially in that area,” she said. “I used to have no fear of running alone out there (but) I haven’t run that section of trail by myself since that happened. I still run on the trails alone sometimes, but it is often on my mind and I get spooked more easily.

“I rationalize that things I do every day are far more life-threatening, like driving and crossing busy streets,” she said. “I think knowing the person that this happened to makes it scarier. I have seen one cougar. I have seen lots of rattlesnakes, a few bears, and some scary people. But the thought of a cougar is what pops into my mind when I hear rustling in the bushes.”

Torres has heard similar tales. He can offer no solutions, comfort or understanding. But as a scientist, he does have an opinion.

“We definitely want to have some level of responsibility if we want to coexist with these animals,” he said. “It’s not to say that anyone would be at fault if (an attack) happened again. But it would be nice to know that people carried the educational message, so that we could potentially minimize the probability, as remote as it is.”

About the Writer

James Raia is the publisher of the free electronic newsletters Endurance Sports News and Tour de France Times, available on his Web site: He can be reached via e-mail at