UPDATED JANUARY 04, 2018 08:11 AM
Mountain lions living in genetically fragile populations in Southern California will no longer receive an automatic death sentence when they prey on pets and livestock.
On Tuesday, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife said it was changing its policy for issuing permits to livestock owners in those areas who are seeking to kill mountain lions. Until now, the permits have been automatically issued if the cat has attacked domestic animals. From now on, the applicant must first try at least twice to shoo the cougar away with nonlethal means.
Although the new policy applies only to the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountain ranges, it represents a fundamental shift in how the state issues what are known as “depredation permits.” Animal rights groups hope the policy may someday expand statewide, a prospect fiercely opposed by cattle and sheep ranchers.
In 1990, voters approved a ballot initiative that prohibited hunting of mountain lions. To appease livestock groups, the initiative’s backers included language in the law that says the state “shall” issue a depredation permit in the event a cougar attacks pets or livestock. The wildlife agency has always issued lethal permits. California issues around 218 of them every year, though typically less than half result in a kill.