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Hunters Are Fair Game for Activists at Cougar Hearing

Times Staff Writer

Activists trying to prevent the resumption of mountain lion hunting in California got their first chance to confront the state Fish and Game Commission Friday, and they used it to revile hunters, to belittle state mountain lion population estimates and to demand that commissioners ignore the “insignificant” hunters’ lobby.

Tempers wore thin during the 2 1/2-hour hearing, and two commissioners fired back criticism at the preservationists who dominated the packed audience in the Long Beach City Council chambers.

“The commission hasn’t recommended a hunt,” said Commissioner Abel C. Galletti of Rancho Palos Verdes. “I don’t know if anyone out there understands that.”

The state Department of Fish and Game this week recommended the resumption of mountain lion hunting after a 14-year moratorium. The department proposed a 79-day season for sport hunting of mountain lions, sometimes called cougars, and annual issuance of 210 permits, each costing $75.

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Commission approval is needed, however, for the recommendation to take force. The commission will hold two more hearings--March 6 in Redding and April 10 in Sacramento--before voting on the issue.

One speaker from British Columbia threatened Friday to organize a tourist boycott of California if a mountain lion hunt is allowed.

“I just hate like hell to be threatened,” retorted Commission President Albert C. Taucher of Long Beach.

“How about the mountain lion?” shouted several people from the audience.

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The moratorium on mountain lion hunting expired after Gov. George Deukmejian vetoed an extension in 1985. An Assembly bill has been introduced that would reinstate the ban.

Preservationists reacted to this week’s proposed resumption of hunting by promising to mobilize opposition to the hunt. At Friday’s hearing, opponents arrived with signs, posters, stenciled paw prints, buttons, T-shirts and petitions. One couple came dressed in mountain lion costumes.

The moratorium on hunting was enacted by the Legislature in 1972 at a time when the state estimated that the mountain lion population had declined to about 600. Now officials think the lions have proliferated.

‘No Faith’ in Figures

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But William Yeates of the Mountain Lion Coalition told commissioners that “we have no faith at all in (state Fish and Game) population figures” which estimate that there are 5,100 mountain lions in California. He said that the estimate seems to increase each year without justification.

“At the present time, no one is even reasonably sure how many lions there are, much less what number would constitute a viable population,” said Virginia Chester of Villa Park, a member of the Sea and Sage chapter of the National Audubon Society in Orange County.

A few speakers spoke in favor of renewed hunting. Bob McKay, president of the California Wildlife Federation, which he described as “the sportsmen’s lobby,” said his 150,000 members favor the proposal.

Earl Wright of Garden Grove, who said he used to hunt mountain lions before the moratorium, said there were too many lions in the state “even when we had bounty on lions.” He said they threaten the deer population because they are “more or less like a house cat” that catches and kills prey but doesn’t eat it all.

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He characterized hunting mountain lions as “very hard work.”

“You spend days on the trail and not in a camp or comfortable conditions. You follow the hounds all day long. When night comes, you build a fire and sit in front of that fire, and you shiver all night long and hope you can find the dogs the next morning.”

Audience Chided

“Few men are tough enough to really be lion hunters,” he said, provoking laughter from the audience. Harold C. Cribbs, the commission’s executive secretary, chided the audience for not being respectful.

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Many more speakers, however, came to the lectern and belittled hunters.

“The days of the rednecks have passed,” said Dorothy McConkle of the Friends of the Mountain Lion. People have better means of self-expression “than decorating our walls with the heads of dead animals,” she said.

Karen DeBraal of Santa Cruz, dressed in a mountain lion costume, called hunting a “biological and ethical crime.”

Another man from the audience berated Fish and Game authorities for “selling one of the highest forms of life--the cougar--for $75 to one of the lowest forms of life--the headhunter.”

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Actress Tippi Hedren, who said she has raised big cats at her own preserve, told commissioners that “it is almost unbelievable to me to understand the mentality of a person who could allow the lights to be shot out of these magnificent creatures.”

Sustained Applause

One man from the audience suggested that hunters be formed into teams, taken to a weapons range and allowed to “blow the hell out of each other.” Cribbs quelled the sustained applause by again asking the audience to be orderly.

A resolution from the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors was presented which asked that the state begin no mountain lion hunting season there until county officials can review the Fish and Game Department’s data.

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And a representative of the Santa Barbara Fish and Game Advisory Commission--Tom Martinez--said his board plus local sportsmen and Boy Scout organizations favor the hunting season.

Two small children were mauled by mountain lions last year at Ronald W. Caspers Wilderness Park in Orange County, forcing temporary closure of the park. Martinez said Boy Scout leaders in his area are concerned about the threat of lions near Boy Scout camps.

While there also have been several other mountain lion sightings in Orange County parks recently, state officials said the attacks on children did not figure into their proposal to have mountain lion hunting resumed.


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