The county is fighting a plan by the state to increase deer hunting in the Santa Ana Mountains, fearing the activity might harm Orange County's deer population and push mountain lions into residential areas.
The state Department of Fish and Game proposal calls for three additional hunts this year that could result in the deaths of as many as 85 does in and around the rugged Cleveland National Forest.
State officials and outdoors enthusiasts insist that more rifle, musket and bow hunting might actually benefit the local deer population by reducing competition for food and thus boosting the health of the surviving animals.
"We don't believe this habitat can support any more deer," said Scott Harris, a state wildlife biologist. "There is a limited amount of food to eat. If you remove a portion of the population, there will be more food and space."
But county officials said the state has offered little evidence to prove that its proposal won't harm the herd. They are recommending that the Board of Supervisors reject the plan at its Tuesday meeting.
In a report released Thursday, the county Harbors, Beach and Parks Division expressed concern that increased hunting would deprive mountain lions of natural prey, causing them to roam through developed areas and perhaps confront humans.
Lions may "change their hunting practices and more aggressively enter urban fringe areas where pets and small children might be confronted," the report stated.
Bob Hamilton, manager of assets management for the county division, said the county isn't exactly sure what effect more hunting would have on the mountain ecosystem.
"We respect the work of the state professionals, but we feel the data presented has been insufficient to draw a conclusion," Hamilton said. "The state hasn't had the resources to do a comprehensive and complete analysis. So we are recommending this conservative approach."
Male deer have long been the target of hunters in the Santa Ana Mountains. Last year, sportsmen killed more than 100 bucks.
But the hunting of female--or "antlerless"--deer requires annual approval from the county Board of Supervisors. In the early 1990s, the board rejected hunts out of concern that drought and development were reducing the herd.
The county did not object to antlerless deer hunting last year. But Hamilton said officials were able to take a closer look at the proposal in recent months and concluded that the county should oppose it.
Though some animal-rights groups strongly reject deer hunting, outdoors enthusiasts say the activity only benefits the mountain area.
"People think if we kill mommy deers, there won't be any baby deers," said Ronald Regehr of Huntington Beach, who frequently hunts deer in the Santa Ana Mountains. "But it keeps the population down and helps the deer [survive]."
State officials said they doubt the hunts would change mountain lion behavior, noting that other wildlife prey would be available. Though 85 deer could be killed under the proposal, the state expects hunters to hit a far smaller number of animals.
"We are not talking about a huge number of deer being harvested," Harris said. "We don't see any adverse effects."