Sunday, May 24, 2009

Ag official's letter: Lion count needed; deer in danger - California

May 23, 2009
By The Free Lance Staff


County supervisors Tuesday will consider endorsing a letter written by Agriculture Commissioner Paul Matulich arguing in favor of reinstating a long-absent count of mountain lions in California.

Matulich and some area ranchers contend there has been an increase in the number of sightings in San Benito County. In the letter (read the entire document below) Matulich expresses concern for public safety while arguing a count likely would show a need to ease restrictions in Proposition 117, passed by voters in 1990 to outlaw sport hunting of cougars.

Though the state fish and game department has not conducted official counts since 1988, it contends the mountain lion population has remained relatively stable and stands somewhere around 5,000 statewide. Fish and game notes how the number of sightings and incidents reported to the state have remained stable over the past two decades.

The Matulich letter reads as follows:

Dear Director Koch:

In 1990 the voters of California passed Proposition 117, the California Wildlife Protection Act. The Act prohibited the sport hunting of the California Mountain Lion, and it required that no less than $30 million a year be spent on wildlife habitat protection and related purposes. Additionally, the Act also required that one-third of the money ($10 million) must be spent to protect the California deer herd and the mountain lion populations, with special emphasis on native oak forests.

In 1985 Department of Fish & Game statistics indicate there were 700,000 deer statewide, their 2009 deer herd counts show that statewide there are 485,000. This shows a 31% reduction in the deer herd over a 24-year period. In 1988 two years prior to Proposition 117 a Department of Fish and Game survey of the mountain lion concluded that there were between 4,000 and 6,000 lions statewide. From 1988 to the present no surveys or counts have been documented on the number of lions in California since being under the protection of Proposition 117.

Due to the passage of Proposition 117, one of California's great natural resources is in danger of becoming extinct. The various species of deer in the state are constantly at risk from the overprotection of the mountain lion. In the 1950's and 1960's the deer herd was estimated to be well over 1 million, but since the elimination of the bounty on lions and the passage of Prop 117 for the protection of the mountain lion the California deer herd has decreased by over 75%.

This also leads us to the horrific possibility that with the increased numbers of lions roaming statewide it is highly probable that eventually an adult or a child will be mauled, maimed or killed by a mountain lion that has been forced into the more urban or populated areas of the state by the increasing numbers and their territorial tendencies.

Just in San Benito County over the last year or two there have been numerous sightings of lions around more populated areas, and verified evidence of a mountain lion within the city limits of Hollister.

Therefore the Board of Supervisors highly recommends that the California Department of Fish and Game perform an extensive survey of the number of lions statewide. A survey of this type most likely will show that some type of control or summary action needs to be taken as a safeguard to the citizens of California. Proposition 117 for the protection of the mountain lion may need to be repealed resulting in a savings of $30 million a year for the next 10 years to the people of the state.


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