The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has seen a significant reduction in mountain lions killed as a result of new policy implemented in February that allows for more non-lethal options when there is an interaction between a mountain lion and humans.
"Last year, I directed the department's leadership team to evaluate our guidelines on how we respond to interactions with mountain lions and bears to determine how we can do better," said department director Charlton H. Bonham. "I'm pleased that we have struck the balance and are witnessing fewer mountain lions killed without sacrificing any wildlife officer's authority to make the correct public safety call for each situation."
According to Bonham, the previous human/wildlife interaction policy evaluation was fast tracked after two notable lethal mountain lion interactions took place at the end of 2012. The stories of these interactions elevated the department's need to evaluate current policy and to make changes to allow the use of non-lethal means. As part of the evaluation, senior department leadership met with many interested stakeholders from both sides of the issue.
Since the new policy was implemented, the Department of Fish and Wildlife has ordered equipment for field staff to better handle the non-lethal means of handling human wildlife conflict calls. Many of the mountain lion and bear incidents that have happened have resulted in hazing wildlife away from the area of high public use or the darting and relocation of the animal, rather than using lethal methods.
In one incident in January, a lion in Santa Barbara was relocated to the Los Padres National Forest. In another incident in Santa Cruz in May, a lion had fallen into a culvert and could not jump out. He was darted and later released in the Soquel Demonstration State Forest. These are just two of many incidents that have ended non-lethally.
"Sometimes you can find a mountain lion or bear in an unusual location otherwise behaving normally," said Mike Carion, the department's law enforcement chief. "It isn't always a threat to public safety. Every situation is unique. We are pleased that this policy allows us to evaluate each situation carefully and to choose a solution which allows a co-existence between humans and wildlife while allowing discretion to act when there is a public safety issue."