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In Julian, a project to protect both livestock and mountain lions

In Julian, a project to protect both livestock and mountain lions
Mountain lion photographed in the Verdugo mountains
(www.deniscallet.com)

Volunteers gathered this weekend at a home near Julian to work on a project aimed at protecting both area livestock and mountain lions.

The wild animals and the farm animals frequently have had contact — in ways potentially fatal to all.

Mountain lions are protected animals and it is illegal to hunt them. But rules change when a puma kills livestock, said Game Warden Jorge Paz. If there is strong evidence that a mountain lion is responsible for a livestock death, the state is required to offer the landowner a “degradation permit,” which allows for the killing of the lion within 10 days should it be seen or trapped on the property.

Three area mountain lions have been killed in the last eight months after livestock attacks.

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The weekend project, organized by the national Mountain Lion Foundation, brought together scientists, a state game warden, 4-H club members and local landowners.

The aim was to build a protective pigpen to keep lions out and, in the end, protect the lives not just of prey but of predators.

“It’s obvious that if you don’t work to preserve and protect the livestock you’re not going to be able to preserve and protect the mountain lions,” said Lynn Cullens, the Mountain Lion Foundation’s associate director. 

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In Julian in the last couple of years, mountain lions have eaten penned chickens, goats and sheep. Usually lions won’t stick around a specific area and feed on livestock more than once or twice, but that has not been the case on the Denny property near Lake Cuyamaca.

In October something got into the chicken coop and ate all but two birds. The next two nights, Brian Denny saw a mountain lion trying to get into the reinforced coop.

His wife, Tara, soon encountered the lion when she went outside to find out why the chickens were “screaming.”

“I was bent over talking to the chickens and didn’t think to look behind me,” she said. When she did, a mountain lion stared at her from just a few feet away. “I screamed probably the loudest I could and then I did the thing they tell you never to do. I ran for it,” she said.

Her husband was just pulling into the driveway. He said he’d never seen his wife move so fast. “Her feet never hit the ground.”

He and his teenage son Trevor armed themselves with a rifle and a shotgun and went outside to look for their dog, Buddy. Brian saw the lion still crouched in the same spot next to the house.

“I was aiming at it but I didn’t want to shoot a lion,” he said. “Not only is it not cool, it’s a huge hassle and a big mess and a really important animal.”

But the lion was acting menacingly, so Denny killed it.

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In May, 13-year-old Elizabeth — the president of the Julian and Santa Ysabel 4-H Club — lost three show pigs she had been raising for this summer’s Ramona Fair to at least two lions that jumped the pen’s 6-foot fence with apparent ease. A trail camera caught one of the attacks on film. Degradation permits were obtained, and two lions were killed.

“We do appreciate (the lions). It was very sad when they had to be put down,” Tara Denny said. “It wasn’t a victorious thing. We cried. It was awful. The whole thing was sad.”

Just last week, another lion showed up on the property, denting the roof of the chicken coop.

The Dennys agreed to work with the Mountain Lion Foundation on the demonstration project because they want alternative ways to protect their livestock. The chain-link pen is enclosed on all sides and on the top to better keep lions out. At the weekend gathering, people also saw  various devices that use noise and lights to ward off unwanted wildlife.

Paz, the game warden, said in his eight years on the job, this is the first time that landowners and the Mountain Lion Foundation have joined forces in such an effort.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” he said.

jharry.jones@utsandiego.com

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Jones writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

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