Group drops plan to kill moun­tain lions

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - FRONT PAGE - By Paul Rogers

A Bay Area open space agency has dropped a plan to kill moun­tain lions and coy­otes on its lands.

One of the Bay Area’s largest open space agen­cies has dropped a con­tro­ver­sial plan to kill moun­tain lions and coy­otes on its lands to help cat­tle ranch­ers.

Late Fri­day, the Mid­penin­sula Re­gional Open Space District, based in Los Al­tos, an­nounced that the pro­posal no longer was un­der con­sid­er­a­tion, fol­low­ing an out­cry from en­vi­ron­men­tal groups and the pub­lic.

The de­ci­sion comes less than a week af­ter this news or­ga­ni­za­tion de­tailed the plans in an ar­ti­cle, and a month af­ter a pub­lic meet­ing in which wildlife ad­vo­cacy groups spoke in op­po­si­tion to the pro­posal.

“As a con­ser­va­tion agency, Mid­pen pri­or­i­tizes wildlife pro­tec­tion,” the district’s gen­eral man­ager, Ana Ruiz, said in a state­ment. “As a land man­age­ment agency, our con­ser­va­tion graz­ing part­ners are ask­ing for help in man­ag­ing these con­flicts. Based on in­put from our wildlife ad­vo­cacy part­ners and the pub­lic at and af­ter our Oct. 22 board com­mit­tee meet­ing, we are no longer ex­plor­ing a three-strikes op­tion.”

Ruiz added: “We are con­tin­u­ing our cur­rent prac­tice of pro­hibit­ing lethal re­moval of moun­tain lions and coy­otes on Mid­pen lands now and into the fu­ture.”

The district, a govern­ment agency based in Los Al­tos and funded by prop­erty taxes, owns 65,000 acres — an area twice the size of San Fran­cisco — across San Ma­teo and Santa Clara coun­ties.

Cre­ated by vot­ers in 1972 to pre­serve wildlife, pro­tect open space and pro­vide pub­lic re­cre­ation, the district be­gan leas­ing some of its prop­erty to cat­tle ranch­ers a decade ago. Al­though Cal­i­for­nia’s state parks and most na­tional parks do not al­low graz­ing, the district says the cat­tle help re­duce fire risk and in­va­sive species and that its pol­icy sup­ports lo­cal agri­cul­ture.

In re­cent years, the ranch­ers and their sup­port­ers say that moun­tain lions and coy­otes have been killing their live­stock. They asked the district to re­duce the num­ber of preda­tors.

The agency drew up a draft plan it called “three strikes” that would al­low coy­otes to be killed on the district’s open space pre­serves af­ter they kill two calves or other live­stock, and moun­tain lions to be killed af­ter they kill three calves or other live­stock. The “lethal take” could hap­pen only af­ter the rancher had tried other meth­ods to de­ter the preda­tors, such as fenc­ing, guard dogs or lights.

No other lo­cal or re­gional parks agency in the Bay Area al­lows its wildlife to be killed to as­sist ranch­ers who lease its lands.

“We would only do so in the case of a threat to hu­man safety,” said Michael Rhoades, nat­u­ral re­sources pro­gram man­ager for Santa Clara County parks, which al­lows cat­tle graz­ing on 16,000 acres of its parks. “Our phi­los­o­phy is that preda­tors have an im­por­tant role in the ecosys­tem, and we don’t want to min­i­mize that sim­ply for the pur­pose of as­sist­ing cat­tle.”

As word of the plan spread, op­po­si­tion grew.

“We’re glad to see Mid­pen of­fi­cials drop­ping the truly ter­ri­ble idea of killing Bay Area moun­tain lions,” said Tif­fany Yap, a bi­ol­o­gist with the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, an en­vi­ron­men­tal group, on Fri­day. “This wise de­ci­sion sup­ports the open space district’s goals of con­serv­ing the area’s na­tive species and rich bio­di­ver­sity, as the pub­lic wanted when they voted to con­serve these lands.”

Of­fi­cials at the San Ma­teo County Farm Bureau, who had sup­ported the plan, could not be reached Fri­day af­ter­noon for com­ment.

Seven ranch­ers lease about 11,000 acres from the district. Last year the ranch­ers grazed 594 cat­tle in five district pre­serves, all of them in ru­ral San Ma­teo County: Rus­sian Ridge, Sky­line, Purisima Creek, La Honda Creek and Tu­ni­tas Creek open space pre­serve.

Last year, seven calves were killed by preda­tors, a rate of 1.2%. Since 2013 when it first be­gan keep­ing statis­tics, 22 calves, cat­tle and steer have been killed on district lands.

District of­fi­cials say they will con­tinue to hold pub­lic meet­ings and pur­sue other op­tions, in­clud­ing re­duc­ing the lease rates ranch­ers pay, and en­cour­ag­ing other tech­niques like light­ing, guard dogs and fenc­ing.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit openspace.org/graz­ing-man­age­ment-pol­i­cya­mend­ment

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF SANTA CLARA VAL­LEY OPEN SPACE AU­THOR­ITY

A Moun­tain Lion is seen in the Coy­ote Val­ley in an un­dated photo in San Jose.

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