Mountain Lions In Our Midst

by David Severn, July 26, 2006

One of the more rewarding aspects of this job is to discover the myriad and remarkable ways that people's buttons get pushed.

With regards to Nancy Mayer's comments (see below) about last week's tidbit on the mountain lion shot on Rays Road. I would have to agree that my thrown together coverage was somewhat "bereft of details." As for the "ridiculous, goofy" and "juvenile" aspect of my attempt at a little lightness in the face of a scary situation I can only point out that of course anything I do will be "juvenile" by comparison to the ranks of her domestic cohort. Though at my age it seems only natural to contemplate that last gasp and the conditions under which it might come and who in hell wants to wither and wilt and drool with incontinence on the way to the pearly gates? Everyone who I have talked with who has had an encounter with a California mountain lion has spoken of the event as awesome. Of course, we could always plop ourselves in front of the tube and watch a National Geographic video and have an incredibly serene passage.

Anyway, maybe I'm overreacting.

It was February, 2005, that the first mountain lion was shot on Rays Road and its lair was said to be approximately 20 feet from the road. At that time locals said they thought there was another lion in the area. This latest lion, a smallish 80-pound male, was bedding down ten feet off the left side of the road not far past the fork that heads to Wellspring. It is estimated that area ranchers have lost as many as 30 sheep to mountain lion predation, a phenomenon that has increased over the last 15 to 20 years but seems to have leveled off recently.

The Department of Fish and Game lists 13 mountain lion attacks on humans that have occurred in California between 1890 and 2004. Six have resulted in death. Eleven of those attacks and three of the deaths have happened since 1986. There were no known attacks for 76 years between 1910 and 1985.

Among those people attacked were joggers, bicyclists and hikers with most seeming to have been hit quick and hard. One big woman was reportedly knocked completely out of her tennis shoes. A local tree faller spotted a mountain lion sitting on a boulder watching him not far from where he was working. The faller made some noise to scare the lion but the cat followed him all the way back to his pickup truck.

The closest attack incident to Anderson Valley happened not far north of here on August 16, 1994 and is described by Tom Chester on his website.

"50-year-old Troy Winslow and his wife Robin, along with 48-year-old Kathleen Strehl, were camping in the yard of a rustic cabin near the isolated hamlet of Dos Rios in Mendocino County, when a fight broke out between their dog and a two-year-old, 60-pound rabid female mountain lion at 4:30am. The lion retreated under the cabin after they threw rocks at it. Near daybreak, the cougar attacked Kathleen, giving her four puncture wounds in the arm and knocking her to the ground. The others jumped on the cat and Robin stabbed it with a 12-inch kitchen bread knife. The cat bit off Winslow's thumb during the melee when the man grabbed the animal near its mouth."

Locally, somewhere around that same time period, Bev Elliot who lives with her husband Doug across from Floodgate Store, looked out her back window and saw a mountain lion sitting on the cross-railing of the gate to her chicken yard. She remembers its long tail hanging down as it sat there with a dead chicken in its mouth contemplating, probably, its next meal. This cat came back twice more during the next week to snatch a meal and it was always right around four o'clock in the afternoon. Locals who remember refer to it as the "four o'clock lion." Doug went out and bought and installed an electric fence and the couple has had no problems since.

The Department of Fish and Game issues Depredation Permits to ranchers and others who are having trouble with mountain lions killing their stock, allowing them to shoot the lions. In Mendocino County from 2000 to 2005 172 permits have been issued. Ninety lions have been killed in that same period, six only in 2005.

Since 1994 somewhere between seven to fifteen mountain lions have been trapped or shot in Anderson Valley. Sheep, goats, house pets and calves as large as 600 pounds have been downed by the predators. One man on Orr Springs Road said up to nine of his pet cats had been taken by a lion and one morning he stood face to face with the creature on his back porch.

At the site of this latest Rays Road incident a dead young fawn was discovered with puncture wounds indicating it had been taken by the lion. Other wild prey for the big cats besides deer include turkeys, rabbits and squirrels and one eviscerated cat had the remains of a skunk in its belly.

This might in part account for why a number of mountain lions seem to be rabid. Two of the three early deaths in California attributed to mountain lions were actually caused by rabies and not directly from the bites themselves.

Excerpt from "Valley People"

NANCY MAYER WRITES: It's difficult to choose the right word to describe your comments in last week's newspaper about the mountain lion on Rays Road: "[I] would be thrilled to have a memorable encounter [with a mountain lion]... I can even proffer that I would be honored to go out the back door being drug by a beautiful and stately California mountain lion."

Ridiculous? Goofy? My husband thought juvenile said it best. I recommend you read "The Beast In The Garden" by David Baron which describes Denver, Colorado's experience with mountain lions.

The AVA article was as bereft of details as the Press Democrat articles on bird flu that Spec MacQuayde wrote about. Where on Rays Road were the two mountain lion lairs? When was the first lion killed? What prompted Trapper Johnson's involvement? Sightings, or were pets eaten? My concern is not idle. I work near Rays Road and often walk there. When mountain lions are habituated to people they lose their reticence to kill them. It appears the Rays Road lions are becoming habituated. We need the details to be made public.

Furthermore there are four "resorts" in the Rays Road area. Is there a liability issue for the CSD and the resorts? Should the CSD consider posting a warning sign?

Don't count me as one of the "liberal, city-born transplants to the Valley... who don't like the idea of killing mountain lions."

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