Federal Cougar Hunters Must Obey California Law

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Karen Schambach (530) 333-2545; Kirsten Stade (202) 265-7337

 

Federal Cougar Hunters Must Obey California Law

Fish & Game Contractors Cannot Evade Ban on Leg Snares and Other Inhumane Practices

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Federal contract hunters employed by the California Department of
Fish & Game may not use poison, snares, leg-hold or metal-jawed
traps to kill mountain lions, even when the lions pose a threat to
Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, according to a new Legislative Counsel
opinion released today by Public Employees for Environmental
Responsibility (PEER). The opinion was requested by Senate Natural
Resources Chairwoman Fran Pavley after PEER relayed internal reports
that mountain lions were being killed inhumanely and unnecessarily by
federal contract hunters.

The state Department of Fish &
Game (DFG) pays federal Wildlife Services, an ironically named arm of
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, $600,000 under a three-year contract
to capture and kill predator species. California law bans the use of
poison, snares, leg-hold or metal-jawed traps, but DFG and Wildlife
Services believed the federal agents were not bound by California law.
PEER has received information that Wildlife Services contractors were
directed by DFG managers to -

  • A shoot-on-sight protocol
    which directs "removal" of any mountain lion entering bighorn winter
    ranges even though the likelihood of predation remains low in some
    areas;
  • Disregard a previous protocol that prohibited the
    killing of a female lion without first determining if she has dependent
    offspring, resulting in the inhumane death of kittens by exposure and
    starvation; and
  • Ignore the bans on snares which voters
    enacted more than 20 years ago under Proposition 117, which designated
    the mountain lion as a specially protected mammal.

"California
voters have created these protections for mountain lions," Said Senator
Pavley. "The Legislative Counsel opinion affirms that even federal
employees must obey California law."

"Scarce state dollars
should not be used to sterilize the Sierras of all mountain lions,"
stated California PEER Director Karen Schambach, noting that the new DFG
protocol goes well beyond the requirements of the Bighorn Recovery
Plan, which prescribes adverse conditioning to discourage lions from
preying on sheep and limits killing to mountain lions which have
actually eaten a bighorn. "The current shoot-on-sight policy is both
coarse and counterproductive. It essentially ignores the likelihood
that indiscriminately destroyed mountain lions that are not preying on
sheep will be replaced by immigrant lions with a taste for bighorns."

In
a May 21, 2010 letter, PEER urged DFG to rewrite its protocols to end
inhumane practices and reduce needless lion killings but the agency has
yet to respond. The new Legislative Counsel opinion affirms that it is
illegal for even state and federal employees to harm or kill a mountain
lion, except when a lion poses a threat to public safety or livestock,
or harms animals protected under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep are listed as endangered under the ESA.

"Protecting
bighorns does not require wiping out mountain lions," added Schambach.
"In these tough fiscal times, we should ask whether taxpayers are
getting their money's worth from this contract with Wildlife Services."

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Read the Legislative Counsel opinion

See the unanswered PEER letter to DFG

View the DFG shoot-on-sight protocol

Learn more about Wildlife Services

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) is a national alliance of local state and federal resource professionals. PEER's environmental work is solely directed by the needs of its members. As a consequence, we have the distinct honor of serving resource professionals who daily cast profiles in courage in cubicles across the country.

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