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Proposition Will Determine Fate of Mountain Lions in California

March 17, 1996

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ A mountain lion ran at state game warden Diane Hermans, then stopped 15 feet away after it spotted one of her partners.

``The mountain lion was looking back and forth at the two of us″ in a highly aggressive stance, said Lt. Robert Turner. ``It appeared an attack was imminent.″

He shot the 65-pound predator twice. The officers said they killed the animal lawfully, as a threat to public safety. A civilian had reported a confrontation with a mountain lion, also called a cougar or puma, in the same spot just three days earlier.

That January incident in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 40 miles northeast of San Diego, is among several cited in the debate over Proposition 197 on California’s March 26 primary ballot.

The measure would end special protections for mountain lions and let the Fish and Game Commission allow trophy hunting of the cats. State officials first approved a cougar hunting moratorium in 1972, and a 1990 initiative permanently banned cougar hunting.

Since the early 1970s, the Department of Fish and Game estimates that the cougar population increased from as little as 2,400 to between 4,000 and 6,000 in 1994, the last formal estimate.

Cougars killed two female joggers in separate attacks in 1994 _ the first such deaths in California since 1909. Four other people have been attacked by mountain lions since 1990. There have been numerous other reports of stalkings, and ranchers complain of killed livestock.

``Mountain lions and humans are on a collision course,″ said state Sen. Tim Leslie, author of the initiative to allow a resumption of hunting. ``I only hope that we can reverse this trend before those incidents lead to more attacks or deaths.″

Supporters of his measure include law enforcement, business, ranching and hunting organizations.

Animal protection and environmental groups opposing Proposition 197 say the initiative is a solution without a problem because state game officials already have authority to kill or remove lions that threaten public safety.

``The two deaths were extremely tragic. However, we should not throw out protection for mountain lions based on fear tactics,″ said Hans Hemann of the Sierra Club. ``Sport hunting will not solve the safety problem.″

Initiative opponents also argue that similar attacks have occurred in states that allow mountain lion hunting.

Department officials say they are uncertain whether the reports of cougar encounters with humans and livestock result from human encroachment into lion habitat, the rise in the lion population, or simply to heightened awareness brought on by publicity about the attacks.

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