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Fish and Game Q&A: Might it be time to consider a mountain lion hunting season?

April 8, 2011 | 11:13 am

Mountain lion In support of the California Department of Fish and Game and its effort to keep hunters and anglers informed, Outposts, on Thursday or Friday, posts marine biologist Carrie Wilson's weekly Q&A column:

Question: I am looking for some information on the seriousness of the apparent increase in mountain lion attacks in the news lately. There have been several incidents of bears attacking humans, and we have a bear season. I’m wondering if it might not be time to reconsider having a mountain lion season? I understand that more mountain lions are killed each year now with depredation permits than were ever killed with a mountain lion season.

What can you tell me about the population increase in mountain lions in California in the past 10 years or so? Would it require legislation to overturn the existing law? Would Department of Fish and Game  data support the need for such a reversal? (Bill T.)

Answer: It’s important to note that mountain lion (puma) attacks on humans are very rare. In the last decade, there have been only four confirmed attacks in California, three of which were nonfatal. Though you may be seeing more media coverage of mountain lion attacks on domestic animals, there’s no evidence that the number of these incidents is increasing. While DFG does not formally track the number of domestic animals killed by pumas, we do keep track of the number of depredation permits issued for problem mountain lions. The numbers of depredation permits issued and resulting pumas killed have actually been fewer in recent years, though.

According to Marc Kenyon, DFG statewide coordinator for bear, mountain lion and wild pig programs, keeping track of those permits is key. Since the original moratorium was placed on mountain lion hunting in California in 1972, DFG has been unable to assess the statewide puma population size in the traditional way (by inputting harvest numbers and age and gender ratios into statistical models). Researchers have attempted to develop indirect count methods over the years, but none have proven to be cost-effective with widespread applicability.

Hence, Kenyon relies on the annual number of depredation permits as an index to the statewide population size. It’s a logical assumption that as the number of permits decreases, so too does the puma population. He believes the puma population is following this index, and the population size is, in fact, smaller than it was 10 years ago. This trend in the puma population closely follows the trend in the statewide deer population, as depicted on DFG website. When viewing this website, note the similarity in the curves depicted on the graphs from the years 1972-2000, understanding that predator and prey populations traditionally cycle with a three- to four-year lag (the predators lag behind the prey).

The California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 (Proposition 117) placed the current ban on puma hunting in California. According to the language in the act, a four-fifths vote by both houses of the Legislature is required to approve any amendment to the act. The act further states (in Section 8): "Any amendment of this act shall be consistent with, and further the purposes of, this act ... " which essentially means that no amendment shall reverse the act’s intent. A 1996 ballot measure, Proposition 197, asked voters whether the specially protected status of the mountain lion afforded by Proposition 117 should be repealed and the species managed by the Fish and Game Commission like all other mammals. This measure failed with a vote of 58% opposed, 42% in favor.

It is difficult to answer your last question regarding the data supporting a need to reverse the legislation. We have data that documents puma densities in a few university-sponsored study locations throughout the state. We have puma depredation and public safety incident data. We have deer (prey) numbers throughout the years. We have habitat availability models. But the amount of data needed to adequately support this type of legislative action is subjective. Kenyon says that he suspects any such proposal would be highly controversial.

Q: Can rockfish and lingcod be taken by spearfishing after dark? (Brian S.)

A: Yes, you may spearfish for rockfish and lingcod at night, except in San Francisco Bay (California Code of Regulations Title 14, section 27.56).

Q: Are there circumstances under which California residents can keep live wild pigs on their property? Where can I find a regulation that addresses this? (Mike A.)

A: It is not lawful for a California resident to possess wild pigs (Sus scrofa) (CCR Title 14, section 671(c)(2)(Q)). But there is an exception for Sus scrofa domestica, also known as the domesticated pig one commonly sees on a farm (CCR Title 14, section 671(c)(2)(Q)(1)).
 

If you have a question you would like to see answered in this column, email it to CalOutdoors@dfg.ca.gov.

Photo: Mountain lion. Credit: Rich Beausoleil / Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

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