Governor to decide mountain lions’ fate

Mountain lions that get too close to humans are a step closer to getting a second chance under a bill now awaiting the governor’s approval.

Senate Bill 132 — authored by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) — would give game wardens more options in dealing with mountain lions that wander into residential neighborhoods.

Hill introduced the measure after two mountain lion cubs were shot to death in Half Moon Bay last November by California Department of Fish and Game wardens.

The mountain lions — believed to be siblings, only 4 months old, starving and weighing about 13 pounds — were huddled in the backyard of a home when they were shot.

Hill told SFBay that under current law, wildlife officials had few options:

“They had no choice but to take the actions that they did. Though I think it was very cruel, their hands were tied.”

 Hill, who represents a district that stretches from South San Francisco to Sunnyvale — and includes Half Moon Bay — said of his bill:

“Wardens still have the ability to kill mountain lions when the public is at risk. This legislation gives wardens the flexibility and resources to better deal with the increasing number of mountain lion encounters throughout the state.”

Wardens and deputies tried to shoo the cubs into a nearby park, but they ended up killing the animals because they feared they would be a danger to the public if they escaped into the neighborhood.

The killing of the cubs prompted an outcry from wildlife advocates, who said the little mountain lions should have been tranquilized instead of being shot dead.

Under the bill, wildlife officials would have additional options, including using “nonlethal procedures” such as capturing, pursuing, anesthetizing, marking, transporting, hazing, relocating and providing veterinary care to mountain lions that wander into populated areas.

Wardens would also be required to use the nonlethal procedures when responding to a mountain lion that is not exhibiting aggressive behavior and is not considered an “imminent threat” to public safety.

The passage of the bill by state lawmakers was cheered by wildlife advocates. Timothy Dunbar, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation said of the legislation:

“With this very important vote, California is one step closer to ending the unnecessary killing of mountain lions.  We applaud Senator Hill for recognizing the value of mountain lions to California’s environment and for championing nonlethal responses to mountain lion encounters.”

The bill — which was passed by the Assembly in a 75-0 vote earlier this month and cleared the Senate this week on a 35-2 vote — has been sent to Gov. Jerry Brown for his approval.