Group drops plan to kill mountain lions
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
A Mountain Lion is seen in the Coyote Valley in an undated photo in San Jose.