Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Please Help Protect Mountain Lions

A Republican tool from Visalia has introduced a bill that would allow trophy hunting of mountain lions (or cougars) in California. AB24 would enable anyone over the age of 12 to compete for the chance to kill a mountain lion in the wild. Cubs and mother lions would not be exempt from slaughter.

If you are a resident of California, please call your representative and ask him or her to oppose this heartless sbill. If you don't live in the state, you can still register your disgust by sending an email to Guvnuh. Ahnie. Tell him you won't vacation in California if he signs this bill into law. Better yet, email Rep. Maze and tell him what you think of his vile bill.

The Sierra Club reports:

Between 1916 and 1971, more than 12,000 mountain lions were killed forbounties and for sport in California. It was common to hear tall tales about the prowess of hunters who single-handedly brought down a wild cougar. After all,the evidence was hanging on the wall above the rifle rack, where a taxidermisthad twisted the face of a mountain lion into a final vicious snarl. The rest ofthe arsenal was not on display: the steel-jawed leg hold traps, snares, poison,the hired tracker and his pack of dogs. It was just a little deception.

During this same period, Californians were gaining a greater understanding about the value of wildlife. In 1922, as the bear flag flew overthe Capitol, the last California grizzly bear was shot. It became very clearthat California's cougars were destined to endure the same fate.

Twenty-fiveyears ago, experts estimated that as few as 600 mountain lions had survived thestate's management practices. Governor Ronald Reagan became convinced that amoratorium on hunting mountain lions was necessary to protect California's last cougars from extinction. In 1971, he signed a moratorium against trophy hunting of mountain lions.

Fifteen years later, in 1985, the legislature was still convinced of the value of protecting California's cougars, and passed legislation that would have extended the moratorium on trophy hunting while biologists measured the lion population in California. Governor Deukmejian vetoed the bill. When the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) tried to open a lion hunting season, citizen groups blocked the hunt in court, where a judge held that the department had not adequately assessed the lion population before deciding that there were huntable numbers.

For some people, the numbers that matter are the dollars and votes. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and Safari Club lobbied relentlessly to lift the moratorium and allow the trophy hunting of mountain lions. Over the years, DFG gained money and influence by selling permits to hunt bears, bobcats, and bighorn sheep. Wealthy trophy hunters, many from out of state, will pay for the pleasure of shooting a lion.

And in the past five years, the political clout of the NRA and the trophy hunters has increased, along with their ability to influence the media, and the dollars they can raise and spend on partisan campaigns. It finally became clear that the people of California needed to send a clear message to their elected and appointed officials that trophy hunting of mountain lions is a cruel and inhumane way to manage lion populations. In 1990 people across the state collected more than 700,000 signatures to qualify a ballot initiative, Proposition 117, that would permanently ban the trophy hunting of mountain lions in California. Proposition 117 addressed concerns about public safety, charging the Department of Fish and Game to remove or take any mountain lion, or authorize an appropriate local agency with public safety responsibilities to remove or take any mountain lion that is perceived to be an imminent threat to public health or safety. The measure was passed by the voters in June of 1990.

Since then, the Department of Fish and Game has been derelict in its duty to manage mountain lions to protect public safety. DFG officials have said that they currently have the ability to reduce mountain lion population density in a specific geographical area, and to reduce the number of encounters between lions and humans. But the Department of Fish and Game has decided not to do its job of protecting the public. Instead, they have focused on creating a climate of fear in order to reopen a trophy hunting season on mountain lions.

For example, DFG keeps a count of dangerous incidents that requires only a telephone call to report. When questioned at a recent Senate hearing, DFG admitted that they could confirm only a small fraction of the reported lion incidents. There is no confirmation process following the call, but each call becomes a part of the statistics you hear on the evening news, and which are used by lobbyists and legislators to support a trophy hunting season. Even DFG's own experts admitted that trophy hunting of lions public safety will not improve.

Proposition 197, defeated March 1996, was a sham. In a classic example of bureaucratic jargon and deception, the word "hunter" was removed from the legislation and replaced with the word "designee." The NRA and the Safari Club lobbied Proposition 197 through the legislature. Without collecting a single voter signature, and hiding behind a disingenuous concern for public safety, trophy hunters have persuaded the politicians to rescind the ban on trophy hunting of mountain lions.

The efforts to have sport hunting of mountain lions in California have been a history of deeper and deeper deception. But even with the arsenal the NRA can bring to bear, California voters oppose for sport. Trophy hunting of mountain lions is an inhumane, and inappropriate method for managing their populations. Trophy hunting of mountain lions does not protect the public safety.

I was watching her eyes. They were dead. Finally, we realized that her last act had been to deny the hounds her body by taking a death grip on a limb with her teeth. I climbed up to the tree, felt her hard body, and pushed her out to the hounds./ - American Hunter Magazine , December 1991

Mountain lions are cautious, elusive creatures. Proposition 197 brings back the hunting of these animals for sport. For large sums of money, a hunter hires a professional tracker and his pack of hounds fitted with radio collars. In a remote area, a wild cougar is pursued by the dogs until, frantic and exhausted, the mountain lion climbs a tree in desperation. In his vehicle, the tracker follows the radio signals at a distance. The cougar may remain treed for days, until the hunter can be called to the scene. Sometimes the cougar is shot in the paws by the tracker to ensure that it will remain alive, but immobilized, while the client-hunter flies in from out-of-state. Finally, a handgun is used to kill the cougar at point-blank range.

California's current law designates the mountain lion as a specially protected mammal, a classification that simply means that it is not a game or trophy animal, and may not be killed by hunters for sport. The law was passed overwhelmingly in 1990 by the voters of California, under Proposition 117, and was intended to protect California's cougars from cruel and indiscriminate trophy hunting by people lacking training in wildlife management.

Current law also requires the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) to remove or take any mountain lion, or authorize an appropriate local agency with public safety responsibilities to remove or take any mountain lion that is perceived to be an imminent threat to public health or safety.

Mountain lions can be killed in California when they pose a risk to people, property, pets, or livestock. In 1994 alone, 122 mountain lions were killed under depredation permits issued by the California Department of Fish and Game.

The gun groups own Prop. 197 (defeated by voters in 1996)

DFG is dependent on trophy hunting enthusiasts for direct fee support, and relies on trophy hunting lobbyists from the Gun Owners of California, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and Safari Club for influence on elected officials, who are in turn responsible for the department's budget. These groups advocate trophy hunting of mountain lions purely for sport, and hope that DFG's failure to appropriately manage the lion population will create such a climate of fear that the public will reluctantly reinstate a massive hunt.

In the latest issue of DFG's publication Outdoor California, Terry Mansfield, chief of the wildlife management division of the California Department of Fish and Game, is quoted as saying that, "recreational hunting of mountain lions would not be expected to prevent public safety threats unless it involved removal of a significant portion of the mountain lion population."

The DFG has failed to do its job. They have been slow to act to create a balanced, humane, and scientific approach to the management of mountain lion populations in California. Such a selective and discriminating approach would deny trophy hunting as a management tool, and would therefore anger lobbyists and campaign contributors.

For example, Safari Club International is an organization dedicated to trophy hunting. In the November 1995 issue of their monthly publication, Safari Times, the trophy hunters revealed that Proposition 197 will allow sport hunting to resume: "the department can propose and the Fish and Game Commission can adopt regulations to allow the sport hunting of mountain lions." The article asks that supporters of the measure raise huge funds nationally for the California campaign, since they believe that the outcome of the election will have a far-reaching, nationwide impact for trophy hunting.

Mountain Lions and Public Safety: Who's Really Under Attack?

Sport Hunting of Mountain Lion Defeated on Ballot (1996)

In the last few years, there have been several mountain lion attacks on individuals in California. They were heavily publicized in newspapers throughout the state. Groups, particularly the National Rifle Association, are trying to take advantage of these incidents to reverse a hard-fought grassroots victory that protects mountain lions from trophy hunting.

In 1990, more than 700,000 volunteers and hundreds of organizations worked together to protect mountain lions in California from being shot for sport. California voters passed the Mountain Lion Initiative. Since then, opponents have been trying to overturn this voter decision in the state legislature. They have not been successful.

Now the National Rifle Association (NRA) is sponsoring a ballot initiative set for March 1996 that would reverse the Initiative. According to the California Wildlife Protection Coalition, such a reversal "will set a dangerous precedent for future protections of California wildlife, and for other successful environmental ballot measures both in California and across the country." The California Wildlife Protection Coalition is a project of the Mountain Lion Foundation & the Planning and Conservation League. They produced the following fact sheet.

The Truth About Mountain Lions And Public Safety What's at stake?

Our hard-won protection for California cougars. Trophy hunting enthusiasts hope that a campaign of fear and misinformation will allow them to overturn the voters' 1990 decision to ban their cruel sport. If the NRA-sponsored ballot measure challenging Proposition 117 was passed by voters in March 1996, it would have:

1. Allow hunting of mountain lions for sport in California, everywhere in the state except within state parks even in local public parks or on private property

2. Encourage the use of cruel steel-jawed traps, leghold traps, and poisons3.Steal $1.2 million from Proposition 117's habitat protection money for private hunting zones for the Safari Club.

*It didn't pass that time - let's not let it pass this time either.