Shoot First; Think Through Later

It’s always a bit appalling but not surprising when an uninitiated person stumbles upon a mountain lion and, frightened out of their wits, decides that killing it is the only action left to them.  It’s more than a bit appalling and should be surprising when the same is done by state wildlife agencies.  These are supposed to be trained, professional individuals, after all.

Unfortunately, something seems to happen to people’s brains when they go to work for state agencies. Let’s call it BBRD for Bureaucratic Brain Rot Disease.  Politics and keeping their jobs then becomes the overriding personal concerns once BBRD kicks in.

The latest example of BBRD and its effect on wildlife management occurred in California.  Despite the fact they live in a state known for its Liberalism and “live and let live” lifestyle, officials at the California Department of Fish and Game killed a couple of 25-30 pound mountain lion kittens…not adults, kittens…claiming that “tranquilizing even small lions is too risky and could put the public in danger if the animals try to flee”.  Frankly, the public was in a lot more danger from the wildlife officers who decided they needed to use firearms in the vicinity of the public, because if the kittens weren’t in the vicinity of the public, why did they even feel they had to shoot them in the first place?

Let me show you how dangerous a sedated mountain lion cub is.

It’s been a while since this picture was taken, but my memory is that the cub was thought to be about 40 lbs and between six and nine months old.  As you can see here, the kitten was drugged silly and easily handled.  While I don’t remember the exact number, I do remember our biologist (Dr. John Laundre) stating that there was a minimum weight below which he didn’t like to tranquilize the kittens because of the threat to the kitten.  It’s possible that the California kittens were too small to be tranquilized.  If that’s true, then they were hardly a significant threat to the public, especially to a couple of game wardens used to handling two legged predators that weigh nine to ten times as much.

Apparently not.

I only went on two mountain lion research expeditions, but during my time, I never saw a significant problem when we attempted to tranquilize our cats (and we always got them).  They almost always ran after they had been hit with the tranquilizer but they never got far and also we had dogs that may have contributed to their desire to flee.  The number of stories I’ve seen coming out of California and talking about CDFG specifically that illustrate bungled tranquilizing attempts make me wonder who the hell is training these guys and what kind of tranquilizer mix they are using.  The public in California has voted to protect the species even when it results in human-critter conflict, so why is it that CDFG seems to lean the other way? Can’t they wait a couple of hours more to get back to watching their movies?

Unfortunately, they are not alone.  State agencies in general, seem ill-prepared to preserve and usually politically bent not to preserve our predators, which is why I have so little faith in any of them.  If you want to preserve an ecosystem, you’ve got to take it as whole and not as something you can bend to our own design.  We’re just not smart enough to figure it all out, especially when we don’t even try to think it through.

Not Better Than No Law At All

Missouri law calls the mountain lion a “protected species” and says that a mountain lion can only be killed if it is attacking or killing domestic livestock or domestic animals or threatening human safety. Recent mountain lion kills in the state are illustrating that Missouri Department of Conservation’s enforcement of the law is so slack that if a hunter is simply afraid, that is all that’s needed to satisfy the department that a lion kill was justified. This is wildlife management at its worst that is, unfortunately, all too common. If the highest bar the agency is going to live up to is whether an uneducated hunter becomes terrified of a mountain lion on sight, then you might as well pack up the MDC and send everyone home and save the state’s budget.

The typical mountain lion sighting appears to be what anyone who knows anything about the cats would expect, i.e., sightings of young males who have struck out on their own and looking for a home territory to settle in. Unfortunately for them, even if they are just passing through, once humans see it, they are likely to kill it “just because”. Most killings don’t happen because mountain lions have actually attacked but happen simply because people get afraid. Most folks know nothing about them except what they’ve seen in the movies where mountain lion attacks, as rare as they are, seem commonplace and fatal. Neither of those facts are true; attacks are rare and usually not fatal. The ones that are hit the news and make it seem, as news coverage often does, that they are the norm.

On January 2, a 29 year old man shot a mountain lion and then had a 60 year old man lie about it and tell the Missouri Department of Conservation he did it. I have to wonder why. Apparently, the MDC never thought to look into that. They instead accepted his story that he was “in fear for his life” and decided not to press charges against anyone involved. You can betty that the fact he lied about it in the case of a human homicide would have raised suspicion, but the fact that it didn’t with the MDC doesn’t surprise me any. God forbid that any state wildlife agency question the motivations of any hunter, despite it may be what the taxpayers are paying them to do.

I’ve also been told that another kill of a 130 pound male has occurred near La Plata, Missouri, and that this kill occurred during an Amish coyote hunt. I don’t know any details more than that. I bet neither does MDC. You gottta hope they’ve been down there asking questions. But my money says they haven’t’. After all, all someone had to do to justify the killing was be afraid. How hard is that?

Are There Any Heroes in South Dakota?

A recent study presented to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks department revealed the state’s mountain lion population were taking as many deer as the hunters were durIng the year.  This has caused a near panic as concerns surface about how many deer can be taken before the deer population begins to decline.  Assuming that one can scientifically divine that answer and if we had responsible wildlife management in that state (or most of the states in the union, for that matter), then the department might be moving to limit the number of deer taken in the state by hunters.  They would have the absolute good sense and the understanding of both nature and mountain lions to know that the lions will manage the deer populations better than any human can and work to minimize human impacts.  But that is not what is happening.

Most state wildlife departments are not interested in performing true wildlife management but instead practice hunting protection and development.  They are generally pawns of their state’s political machines and subservient to administrators who are political appointees of their governors. It’s all too common that these appointees are  hunters who view the states as their own private playgrounds.  Genuine wildlife management does not stand a chance when this is true.

The South Dakota reaction to the report is an example of such a poisonous scenario.  They are looking to increase the number of lions that hunters are allowed to take in the belief that they will solve the problem by thinning out the mountain lions in the state.  In a tip of the hat to environmental attitudes and understandings of the 1800’s, they are claiming that people want to see fewer mountain lions.  This also portrays the killers as heroes who carry out the will of the people and protect the citizens of the state.  There is nothing heroic about this approach.  It is an illustration of ignorance and arrogance based a belief system that no matter what we do to the earth around us, we will survive.

If you want to be heroic and still believe you must go kill a mountain lion, leave your gun at home, grab a Bowie knife and head out.  But real courage involves doing what is right for the world around you.

I don’t believe that killing more mountain lions in the South Dakota case is it.