No Longer the Hunted Mountain Lion : * Despite Several Flaws, Prop. 117 Deserves to Be Approved on June 5


Like most laws written by initiative, Proposition 117 has flaws. On balance, though, this measure banning the hunting of mountain lions in California is a worthy one and merits approval in the June 5 primary.

There has not been an open hunting season on mountain lions in California since 1972. Now is not the time to start. The state Fish and Game Commission succumbed to hunter and rancher pressure in recent years and twice established hunting seasons for the cats. Each time, the season was canceled by the courts on grounds that the commission had failed to establish an environmental basis for resuming lion hunts.

Legislation to make the 1972 moratorium permanent was vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian. Environmental groups and legislators active in the save-the-lion campaign then put the issue before the voters via an initiative petition campaign.


The key argument has been over how many mountain lions remain in the wild in California. Fish and Game Department representatives claimed there are as many as 5,100. But this estimate was challenged by other wildlife experts. The lion population was decimated in the years prior to 1972 when the state paid a bounty on cats killed. In 1972, the Department of Fish and Game estimated the state had only 600 left.

Livestock growers have legitimate complaints about lions because calves and lambs occasionally are killed by the more daring cats. But current law permits the killing of specific cats that are identified as preying on stock or pets, and that would be maintained.

The flawed part of Proposition 117 is the provision creating a Habitat Conservation Fund and guaranteeing it $30 million a year for the next 30 years. The money would be used to protect habitats of lions and deer herds, and for the protection of endangered animals and plant life, wetlands and parks.

Compelling the Legislature to appropriate money by initiative statute is not a prudent way to legislate. However, much of the money that would be earmarked by Proposition 117 already is set aside for such purposes.

The major point of Proposition 117 is that trophy hunting of the cougar is inappropriate now and in the foreseeable future. The standard manner of hunting lions is to have them tracked and chased by dogs. The lion seeks refuge in a tree. The hunter shoots it out of the tree. California long ago lost the grizzly bear and wolf through such tactics. The lion should not be condemned to the same fate. We recommend a Yes vote.