By Shayla Ashmore
for Lassen County Times
February 07, 2007
SUSANVILLE, California (STPNS) -- Anyone who sees a mountain lion in north Susanville is urged to call police, the sheriff’s department or the California Department of Fish and Game, after a confirmed mountain lion sighting at the Susanville Ranch Park last week.
DFG Lt. Lisa Stone asked anyone who spots a mountain lion, also called a cougar, to call her at 257-7617, or call the police or sheriff’s department so she can determine the pattern of activity of the lion, or lions.
North Susanville resident Hugh Hardaway reported the lion sighting just before 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 31. Hardaway said he and his wife, Lou, were walking their dog, Yawka, at the park. They were ready to cross the footbridge near the parking lot, when Lou spotted something strange off to their right where the field meets the creek.
“She said, ‘It looks like there’s a bird on a post.’ Then it moved. ‘It’s a mountain lion,’ she said,” Hardaway said. “It was moving like a cat and it had a long tail. It was beige with a brown head and a black muzzle. She was watching us while we were watching her. She leapt up into the savannah grass over there.”
While Lou took the agitated border collie, corgi cross, known as a borgi, to the car, Hugh went back to have a better look.
“That was a stupid thing to do,” he said.
When he got back to the bridge, the lion was back out of tall grass sitting where it was again.
“We’ve been aware of lions in park for some time. I walk almost every morning and I see tracks, bones, spinal columns. We’ve been aware of something watching us and we knew it was there.”
Hardaway called the sheriff’s department and a few minutes later flagged down a Susanville police officer on Bunyan Road.
“My wife has banned me from going to the trails for a few days by myself,” Hardaway said.
“I was not concerned that the mountain lion was going to attack me at all because I just felt confident I knew what to do if it attacked me,” he added. “I always walk with a cane and a soccer whistle” and the dog pricks up her ears, as if to say, “We’ve got company.”
Saying he realizes now his attitude was stupid, Hardaway added and he thought it was unusual to see a cougar in the open during the day.
Five sheriff’s officers, two police officers, Stone and Federal Trapper George Affonso responded to the park. Stone said they didn’t see a lion, though deputies spotted many sets of lion tracks. Lassen County personnel put up mountain lion warning signs at the park that afternoon.“We’re looking at it as a concern at the moment,” Stone said. “But deer and lions do exist out there in the park. I’ve had three sightings I can confirm since Friday, Jan. 24.”
After talking to Hardaway, Stone said, “I believe it is a credible sighting. The lion is there.”
Since deer are cougars’ preferred prey, and deer roam all over north Susanville, Stone said, “There are a lot of places where they can hang back and do their natural thing. I’m concerned about it because of the school.”
She added, “We do err on the side of caution especially when it comes to children.”
The night janitor at Meadow View Elementary School, which abuts the park, saw the cougar two nights in a row on the school campus near the portable building closest to the park, according to MV Principal Chuck Spence. She reported seeing the lion at 9 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 29 and Tuesday, Jan. 30.
“Deer go back and forth through there; it’s just following the deer and there’s nobody around. It’s just doing its natural nocturnal thing,” Stone said.
Affonso planned to drag brush all trails with an ATV the night of Jan. 31 to erase all the dog and people tracks and give Stone a better idea of what deer and lions are doing. Since city and county law enforcement are charged with public safety, if they are called with a credible threat to public safety, they can shoot the lion, Stone said.
Hardaway reported the lion was 90-100 pounds, or full-grown, while another witness talked about a younger lion, Stone said.
“It’s difficult to judge the size,” she said. “It could be same lion or a couple of different lions.”
As far as the sighting over the weekend of Jan. 13 and 14 by a parent of an MV student, reported in the Jan. 23 paper, Stone said she never got a call from the school or the parent.
“I’m short two warden positions here in this county and we don’t have a biologist at the moment,” so Stone must investigate all sightings personally.
“If people would actually call me when they have a sighting so I’m not hearing things third-hand, it makes my job a lot easier,” she said, adding police will patrol around the park and she will patrol also as often as she can.
A new DFG biologist is schedule to start this week, so the biologist number in the phone book will be active. Stone said she is dispatched by Susanville office of the California Highway Patrol, so anyone sighting a lion may also call the CHP.
“I want to make sure these people (who see lions) understand I can do something about this because it’s become a concern. So, call me.”
Since voters passed Proposition 117, the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990, hunting mountain lions has been illegal. Since then reports of human sightings and injury by mountain lions have been increasing.
“We can’t close the park. We just don’t close the park,” Stone said. “There’s just no way to do that and people would just object and say it’s a public park.”
However, she added, “We’ll take whatever appropriate action needs to be done. We also try to do that when the kids are not around.”
She cautioned that if the lion in the park now is killed, “It’s more than likely another lion is going to come in there and we won’t know about it. It’s a natural deer migration trail and deer getting fed by people who mean well attract the predator.”
She urged those who feed deer to stop.
“If people would not feed those deer, they would be a lot more afraid of people, a lot less clustered around and they would suffer less disease.”