The Mountain Lion: Once Endangered, Now a Danger
On April 23, 1994, as Barbara Schoener was joggingin the Sierra foothills of California, she was pouncedon from behind by a mountain lion. After an apparent struggle with her attacker, Schoener was killed by bites to her neck and head (Rychnovsky 39). In 1996, because of Schoener’s death and other highly publicized attacks, California politicians presented voters with Proposition 197, which contained provisions repealing much of a 1990 law enacted to protect the lions. The1990 law outlawed sport hunting of mountain lions and even prevented the Department of Fish and Game from thinning the lion population.
Proposition 197 was rejected by a large margin, probably because the debate turned into a struggle between hunting and antihunting factions. When California politicians revisit the mountain lion question, they should frame the issue in a new way. A future proposition should retain the ban on sport hunting but allow the Department of Fish and Game to control the population. Wildlife management would reduce the number of lion attacks on humans and in the long run would also protect the lions. The once-endangered mountain lion To early Native Americans, mountain lions—also known as cougars, pumas, and panthers--were objects of reverence. The European colonists, however, did not share the Native American view. They conducted what Ted Williams calls an “all-out war on the species” (29).
The lions were eliminated from the eastern United States except for a small population that remains in the Florida Everglades. The lions lingered on in the West, but in smaller and smaller numbers. At least 66,665 lions were killed between 1907 and 1978 in Canada and the United States (Hansen 58). As late as 1969, the country’s leading authority on the big cat, Maurice Hornocker, estimated the United States population as fewer than 6,500 and probably dropping (Williams 30). In western states today, the mountain lion is no longer in...