Mountain Lion Roundup

November 2, 2008

The Town held an informational meeting on Thursday the 21st to advise the COWmunity about the surge in mountain lion (cougar) sightings in the Woodside area. As we’ve written here and here, sightings of mountain lions has spiked in recent weeks. At the meeting, representatives from the Sheriff’s Office and local Game Warden came to explain what has been occurring and describe what to do to stay safe. The event drew quite a large crowd, including COWncil member Carol Ann Hodges. You can watch it here on Mootube.

To put these citings in perspective, it is noteworthy that since 1890, only 16 attacks on humans by mountain lions have been reported in the United States – and ten of those were nonfatal. You have a much greater threat of being attacked by a shark or struck by lightning than ever being attacked by a mountain lion. Indeed, you are probably more in danger from hitting a deer with your car than being attacked by a mountain lion. Surprising to us was the fact that many, if not most “mountain lions” reported are, in fact, bobcats, which tend to be harmless to humans. Nonetheless, citizens are advised to call the Sheriff’s Office and report any sighting of a mountain lion. All such reports are tracked. .

The meeting provided with some basic information about mountain lions and their habits, as well as the recent actions our officials have taken in response to the increase in sightings. The spike was attributed to natural variations in the environment which result in the mountain lions following prey down from higher elevations. The Sheriff’s Deputies have been riding their motorcycles along trails in the hills starting at 6 am and continuing for four hours, and then again in the late afternoon and early evening – the cats’ most active time. While no cougars have been spotted, the Deputies are confident that they are discouraging them from the trails, as well as increasing the awareness of regular hikers and bikers. The San Mateo County Alert system is a text messaging system offered by the County in order to notify people of emergencies.

The speakers stressed the need for peaceful coexistence with mountain lions; after all, as was pointed out, the wooded hills are their natural habitat. A gentleman from the Open Space District even said that the presence of the lions in our area is a sign of the success of their mission since mountain lions require a lot of space to thrive. The fact that mountain lions are being sighted in our area is a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

It is actually illegal to hunt or attack a mountain lion (except of course in self-defense!) without a “depredation permit” which is only issued if a mountain lion kills your livestock. Apparently only two such permits have ever been granted in San Mateo County – and both were unfilled – meaning that the mountain lion wasn’t killed, but moved on naturally. The speakers assured the mountain lion fans in the audience that the Deputies and Game Wardens are in no way trigger happy, and that there is a very strict protocol for when a mountain lion is deemed a danger to people and must be killed.

Safety tips were given, most of which we have mentioned in our previous articles. If a lion looks like it might pose a threat, back away slowly while attempting to look big and make sure to protect small children. if attacked, fight back with all your strength. Further advice included: staying in groups when hiking or biking as well as carrying a walking stick. Airhorns and pepper spray (and especially the much stronger variant known as bear spray) were recommended as effective deterrents to an attack. A very valuable resource cited at the meeting is a website decoding mountain lion “language” by interpreting what their gestures mean. That website is online here, and include photographs of mountain lions in various poses.

Important advice given at the meeting was focused on reducing risk and promoting coexistence by make your property unattractive to mountain lions and safer for you:

• Don’t feed or encourage deer or other wildlife to spend time on your property. Consider planting deer-resistant vegetation, or plants they don’t like to eat.
• Don’t feed pets outside.
• Trim brush and make sure you have visible sight lines around your house so you can see lions – and more importantly, they can see that you can see them.
• Consider outdoor lights with motion sensors.
• Pen up / protect livestock.
• Keep an eye on children.

This topic was apparently of enough interest that KTVU Channel 2 sent reporter Lloyd Lacuesta to interview people as well as capture parts of the meeting for a news broadcast.

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