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State Postpones Open Season on Mountain Lions

Times Staff Writer

Despite pleas from sportsmen who want to begin hunting mountain lions immediately, the state Fish and Game Commission on Monday tentatively decided to postpone open season on the cats for at least another year.

The commission unanimously voted to postpone a mountain lion season until 1987 to give state game officials enough time to study the animals’ breeding, eating and living habits. It also wants to study how to divide the state into six to eight regions for administrative purposes if a hunting season is opened.

In January, Gov. George Deukmejian officially lifted a 14-year ban on hunting the lions, also known as cougars, when he vetoed legislation to extend protection of the animals. Protection was first established in 1972 when the mountain lion population had dwindled to about 2,400, but officials now estimate there are 4,800 mountain lions in the state.

Despite the postponement, members of the six-member commission Monday made it clear they favored legalization of lion hunting. A final decision on the mountain lion season will be made April 25 after additional testimony on the matter is taken at a commission meeting in Long Beach.

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New attention has been focused on the political battle over mountain lion hunting since the March 23 attack by a cougar on a 5-year-old girl in a San Juan Capistrano wilderness park. Laura Michele Small suffered massive head wounds and was listed Monday in good condition in a Mission Viejo hospital.

But the attack received only a cursory mention at Monday’s meeting. “It’s a hunting issue, let’s not forget that,” Mark C. Jorgensen, a naturalist for the state Department of Parks and Recreation, said at the meeting. “We’re not going to save sheep, cattle, deer or little girls and French poodles by opening up a hunting season on mountain lions.

Other testimony Monday was emotional, pitting environmentalists and animal lovers against hunters throughout the state, particularly those from the Fresno area who claim that the North Kings area of Fresno County is overrun with mountain lions.

“We feel there should be a statewide lion hunt this year because the law provides for it,” said Mike Michael, a spokesman for the Fresno-based Western Sierra Sportsmen Club. “We’ve had 14 years of study. Let’s get on with it and manage the (lion) population.

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“It ain’t a pretty sight to see a full-grown mountain lion eating out of garbage cans,” added Tex Jennings, a Fresno resident who said he has no desire to kill a lion.

But opponents say that hunting the cats is cruel and an irresponsibly drastic way to deal with the possible proliferation of cougars.

“We’ve had people go out to the backcountry every weekend for a year and never see a mountain lion,” said Sharon Negri, a spokeswoman for the Mountain Lion Coalition, a group fighting for protection of the cats.

“The biggest argument is that we don’t need trophy hunting,” she said. “We have existing laws to protect damage to cattle and other livestock.”

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Even during the 14-year moratorium, it was legal for ranchers and park officials to shoot and kill the lions if they suspected the carnivores of attacking livestock or domestic animals. All they had to do was obtain oral approval from a local fish and game office.


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