The hunter finds a track and sets his dogs on the scent. Sometimes, after an all-day run, they tree their prey.
"Then," reads a two-year-old, full-page ad of the Mountain Lion Preservation Foundation, "from point-blank range, you fire away, blowing the animal to bloody lint."
And that, allowing for the emotional language of those who don't approve, is how mountain lions are hunted.
The method may not be pretty but, to those philosophically opposed to all hunting, any way of killing creatures by men is ugly.
Conversely, Walter E. (Howdy) Howard, Ph.D., professor emeritus of wildlife biology at UC Davis, suggests that the standard method of hunting lions--a sure, short-range, clean kill--is more humane than other forms of hunting and certainly more humane than what man is doing to mountain lions in his misguided attempts to protect them. Mountain lions, Howard says, are being loved to death.
"It's not endangered, it's not threatened," he said. "It's a bloody pest."
Those views are further polarized by state Proposition 117, the Wildlife Protection Act of1990--the so-called "mountain lion initiative"--on the June 5 ballot.
Actually, the initiative is less about mountain lions than real estate. Prop. 117 presents no biological data on mountain lions but states that "corridors of natural habitat must be preserved to maintain the genetic integrity of California's wildlife."
Under Prop. 117, the state Fish and Game Code would be amended to prevent the hunting of mountain lions forevermore.
The initiative would create the Habitat Conservation Fund to spend $30 million a year for 30 years to buy and reserve wildlife habitat. One-third is earmarked for mountain lions and deer--a lion's principal prey--and two-thirds would go to assist unspecified rare, threatened and endangered species, which do not include lions and deer.
In California, the mountain lion was a bounty animal as recently as 1963, then was designated a game mammal for regulated hunting until '72 and subsequently a "specially protected mammal" during a hunting moratorium that expired in '86.
Then the Fish and Game Commission again designated it a game mammal but lost proposed hunts to animal-rights groups in court in '87 and '88. Prop. 117 would restore the mountain lion's status as "specially protected."
Half of the annual $30 million would be spent in Southern California, the other half in northern California. Opponents point out that a female mountain lion needs 50 or 60 square miles of range, a male 100 or more--in whole parcels, not small chunks connected by corridors. They ask, where can anyone buy land like that, especially in Southern California, and then persuade lions to live there?
That's why opponents claim Prop. 117 is nothing less than a pork-barrel piece for certain legislators and a land grab for private interests to acquire property in the Santa Monica Mountains and elsewhere. Prop. 117, opponents say, is riding the crest of environmental fever and using the mountain lion as an emotional focus to carry it to victory.
Wildlife biologists say the mountain lion needs no protection and, conservationists say, the $30 million will be stripped from more important existing programs.
Edna Maita, senior consultant for the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, suggested that Prop. 117 is a "shortcut" to achieve a \o7 de facto\f7 endangered listing for mountain lions, without establishing scientific support.
Even Gerald Meral, director of the Planning and Conservation League that sponsored the measure, says: "The mountain lion's not an endangered species. It is not threatened by extinction from hunting. We would never argue that."
But Meral listed $400,000 from the Endangered Species Tax Checkoff fund, along with proposed siphons from salmon, steelhead and the kangaroo rat programs, in a letter to Pete Bontadelli, director of the Department of Fish and Game, suggesting where the $30 million would come from.
"No existing environmental program would in any way be diminished by the passage of Proposition 117," Meral wrote in a cover letter to reassure conservationists. "Director Pete Bontadelli has agreed that the funding analysis in this letter is accurate."
But Bontadelli's chief aide, Ted Thomas, said: "That doesn't mean we're agreeing there is no impact. We still don't know what direction the thing would go."
Maita said Prop. 117 "provides for a major reallocation of money for habitat acquisition. What happens to programs that are currently funded out of there? (For) the Department of Fish and Game . . . the potential is for (a loss of) $10-$12 million."
The DFG already has instituted severe cutbacks to meet a $7.5-million budget deficit in the fiscal year ending July 1.
Prop. 117 began life as Assembly Bill 860, introduced a year ago by Richard Katz (D-Panorama City). Interviewed in his capitol office recently, he didn't remember the number.
Questioning an aide, he referred to "the mountain lion bill."