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Is the only good mountain lion a dead mountain lion?

May 23, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • A radio-collared wolf in 2005 from the Grant Creek pack at Denali National Park in Alaska.
A radio-collared wolf in 2005 from the Grant Creek pack at Denali National… (Gordon Haber )

Holy call of the wild: Can't we all just stop killing animals for a while?

OK, that's one too many allusions. But it has been a bad spell for America’s predators.

In Santa Monica on Tuesday, a mountain lion was killed by officers after it wandered into the courtyard of an office building. 

And in Alaska this spring, a trapper caught and killed the only breeding female wolf from Denali National Park's Grant Creek pack.

Predictably, in both cases animal rights folks -- and just plain folks -- were upset.

Santa Monica Police Lt. Robert Almada said officers shot and killed the 75-pound mountain lion after a tranquilizer dart, a fire hose and other efforts failed to contain it. "A variety of means were used to try to keep the animal back in the courtyard," he said. "The animal continued to charge and attempted to flee. ... It was euthanized to protect the public safety."

The Santa Monica incident comes on the heels of another mountain lion shooting, this one last month in Sunland. Once again, officials deemed it too dangerous to try to tranquilize the 80-pound cat. 

In Alaska, the wolves pose little danger to the public. In fact, the female's death could mean dark days ahead for the Grant Creek wolves. Scientists say the pack, which is the most seen by visitors to the park, may now break up.

Not that the trapper who baited his snare with a dead horse just outside the park -- an area some want to make off-limits to such activity -- cared:

Coke Wallace, a Healy, Alaska, hunting guide, says the park's 6 million acres are plenty of room for its 70 wolves; he blames environmentalists for the fuss:

"This buffer zone? It's a nonissue. It was never a biological issue; it was thrown out to appease the ecological people, and they’re not going to be happy until the buffer zone brushes up against Canada. I mean, you've got 6 million acres [locked up in the park]. How much is enough?" he said in an interview.

"The thing about those people is they take and take and take, and they never give," he said. "Well, 6 million acres should be enough for you, and if it’s not, I’m sorry. You can’t have it all."

And I suppose that sentiment is at the heart of all these cases: "You can’t have it all."

Some commenters wanted the Santa Monica standoff settled peacefully -- a tranquilized mountain lion carted away to roam free again. Same with the Sunland cat.

"What was the rush?" asked Bill Dyer, 78, a regional director for In Defense of Animals, an international nonprofit animal protection organization. "They should have taken their time. This land belongs to the animals too. This is not just our land."

It's a noble sentiment. Really, many of us might feel that way.  But it's asking a lot of officers to take that risk when the consequences could be fatal to some innocent bystander. Like it or not, a mountain lion in downtown Santa Monica poses a threat. "You can’t have it all" -- a safe community and a mountain lion on the prowl.

But the Denali case strikes me as something else. The park's wolves and its other wildlife are a major tourist draw in Alaska.  That state officials apparently don't see it that way -- that they would allow the interests of one trapper to trump those of hundreds of thousands of visitors and of those who rely on those visitors' dollars -- seems incredibly shortsighted.

Killing to protect the public: It's unfortunate, but I can understand it.

Killing a creature that many people pay thousands of dollars and travel thousands of miles to see, just because the state says you can -- that's dumb on so many levels.

Maybe we can't have it all, but you don't have to be a tree-hugger to think that surely we can do better.


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