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Save the Lions

This could be, and should be, the year of the lion in California, with passage of legislation that would spare the state’s mountain lion population from sport hunters who have one basic desire: to have the stuffed head of a big cat displayed on a wall at home. Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Panorama City) is correct when he says that shooting these animals for fun is outrageous. “Frankly, just this kind of mentality is why we only see the grizzly bear on the California state flag,” Katz said.

Katz is sponsoring a bill to reclassify mountain lions from game animals to specially protected mammals that could be killed only by permit when they damage or destroy livestock or threaten lives. The Katz bill also would appropriate $15 million annually to buy land that is natural habitat for the elusive lions, for deer and for endangered or threatened species.

The status of the lion is somewhat in limbo after a long moratorium on sport hunting of the animal expired in 1986. The state Fish and Game Commission scheduled lion hunts in each of the last two years, but fortunately the hunts were halted by lawsuits. A bill sponsored by Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside) to extend the moratorium passed the Legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian.

State fish and game officials have argued that the lion has made a comeback after its numbers dwindled over the years at the hands of professional hunters and trappers, and as development encroached on the cat’s natural territory. But private animal experts have questioned the department’s estimate that there now are as many as 6,000 cats in the state. They believe the number is far smaller than that. While the lion is not officially listed as a threatened or endangered species, the sad fact is that it is too late for some species by the time officials get around to affording them official protection. That must not happen with the mountain lion in California.

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