Dear Register Reader

On Jan. 11, the Register published a letter from Paul DeMarco of Brea who complained that recent attacks on cyclists were not the first time a human had been killed by a mountain lion. “These unfortunate folks found out first-hand that the cuddly kitty portrayed in Proposition 117 in 1990 (which gave special protection to mountain lions) is in fact a deadly predator. Prior to the passage of 117,” DeMarco continued, “it did not take a miracle of modern man to get a depredation permit to harvest one of these cats that are hanging out next to housing developments looking for an easy meal.” DeMarco predicted lion attacks on humans would continue until “some sort of sanity comes from Sacramento.”

Great Hunter DeMarco's lust to “harvest” seems punitive in (and toward) nature. Like many, he anthropomorphizes the mountain lion which, for the record, does not hang out. What's more, every animal is looking for an easy meal—which is why the mighty tiger attacks the young, why sharks react to blood, and why scientists invented the microwave burrito.

The California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 does indeed grant the mountain lion special protection, limiting the authority of the Department of Fish and Game to manage populations and prohibiting trophy hunting. Although it upheld a 1972 moratorium on the sport hunting of lions, it does allow the killing of lions that prey on livestock or threaten humans. And far from taking a miracle of modern man to get a depredation permit, it's actually gotten easier: the number of annual permits has risen steadily since passage of Prop. 117: less than 200 before 1990 to more than 300 by 1996.

The Act was passed not to save cuddly kitties, but to protect the viability of entire ecosystems. Failure to preserve the intricate relationship between species can result in what scientists call “ecosystem decay” and “trophic cascade,” where the extinction of one species can have secondary effects on seemingly unrelated populations—for example, when sea otters were removed from subtidal kelp forests, sea urchins proliferated, destroying the kelp and eventually many of the species that made the subtidal zone their home.

As ecosystems are further fragmented and biological corridors severed, many species feel the heat, especially alpha predators like the mountain lion. They are increasingly forced to live closer to humans, increasing the likelihood of predation on livestock, domestic pets and, rarely, homo sapiens.

But this balance has been altered by man, not lion. If, as DeMarco suggests, the cyclists were attacked because of their own ignorance, what excuse do we offer the wads who build housing developments next to mountain lions and sell homes to young families?

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