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TERENCE P. JEFFREY: How Many Mountain Lions Are Too Many?

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I saw it by accident.

I was sitting in the kitchen at my family’s ranch in the high foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains — not far from Yosemite National Park.

I got up to refill my water glass and looked out the window behind the kitchen sink. About a hundred yards away — across an upward-sloping field of yellowed grass — stood a rectangular chicken house.

My older brother and his wife, who operated the ranch, raised the best chickens you could ever eat in that humble shed. They were organically fed and spent their days roaming around a fenced-in area just outside their hillside home.

When my water glass was full, I turned off the faucet — and then saw something move on the yellow-grass slope leading up to the shed. It stopped. Then it moved again.

Was that a mountain lion crawling through the grass toward those well-fed chickens?

It was.

Had that mountain lion not moved, I would never have seen it. Its coat of fur was a perfect match for the grass through which it crept.

Nor was there any doubt what that mountain lion wanted: a chicken lunch.

On this occasion, he did not get it. The fence protecting those chickens did its job.

This happened sometime in the mid-1970s and was the only time I ever saw a mountain lion on the loose.

In 1971, California Gov. Ronald Reagan signed a law imposing a four-year moratorium on hunting mountain lions in California.

Fifteen years later, just before Easter in 1986, a 5-year-old girl took a walk with her parents in a wilderness area just east of San Juan Capistrano — where she encountered a mountain lion. “There was no warning, no nothing. It grabbed her by the head and ran off with her,” the girl’s mother told the Los Angeles Times. “I thought I would never see her again.”

Fortunately, a man who was hiking nearby, the Times reported, “used a stick to beat the cat, which released the child’s head from its powerful jaws and disappeared into a thicket.”

Seven months later, a mountain lion attacked a 6-year-old boy as he walked in the same park with a group of children.

“The children ran ahead of us about 15 yards and around a curve,” the boy’s father told the Associated Press. ‘You could hear laughing. Then all of a sudden it turned into screams.”

“The mountain lion had [the boy’s] head in his mouth,” said the father.

“I ran at it with a knife,” he said. “Right before I got to it, [the lion] released him.”

In 1990, four years after mountain lions attacked these two children, California voters considered Proposition 117 — which would ban hunting mountain lions. They approved it 52.42% to 47.58%.

The proposition, of course, did not ban mountain lions from hunting humans.

Between its 1990 passage and 2022, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, mountain lions perpetrated 19 “verified” attacks on individuals in California. Three of these attacks were fatal.

On April 23, 1994, a 40-year-old woman went running on a trail east of Auburn, California. As reported by the Sacramento Bee, she became “the first person killed by a mountain lion in California since 1909,” when she “was bitten on the neck and the head.”

Eight months later, the Los Angeles Times ran this headline about a woman who was found dead on a trail east of San Diego: “Slain Mountain Lion Is One That Killed Hiker.”

“Authorities confirmed Monday that the mountain lion shot Saturday night is the animal that killed a 58-year-old woman who was hiking and bird watching at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park,” said the paper.

A decade later, on Jan. 11, 2004, an Associated Press story carried this headline: “Authorities confirm lion killed cyclist.”

“Initial tests conducted on a male mountain lion suspected of killing one biker and injuring another revealed human skin tissues found in its stomach, authorities said,” the AP reported.

“Footprints taken in Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park in Orange County had the same measurements and officials are fairly certain the cougar is responsible for both of Thursday’s attacks,” it said.

This week, a California mountain lion once again killed one and injured another.

“According to the El Dorado Sheriff’s Office, dispatchers received a desperate 911 call around 1:15 p.m. Saturday from Darling Ridge and Skid roads in a rural part of the county about 30 minutes north of Placerville,” reported “The caller was an 18-year-old who said he and his older brother had just been attacked by a mountain lion. During the fight for their lives, the two brothers were separated, and the young man wasn’t sure where his 21-year-old brother was.”

“About 15 minutes into the search,” said, “they encountered a ‘crouched mountain lion next to a subject on the ground.’ They fired their guns to scare the animal off and rushed to help the man, but he was already dead.”

In 2022, as reported by NBC Bay Area and the Associated Press, a mountain lion was discovered — before school started — in a classroom at Pescadero High School on the San Francisco Peninsula.

The Mountain Lion Foundation estimates there are 4,500 mountain lions in the state of California.

“In California, mountain lions are a specially protected non-game species; following the passage of the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 (Proposition 117). Mountain lions have not been hunted in California since 1972,” says the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Perhaps it’s time to start hunting these lions again, before they can hunt down more people.

Terence P. Jeffrey is the investigative editor of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

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