SAN FRANCISCO - An increase in the number of encounters between people and mountain lions has prompted state officials to consider giving game wardens more options besides shooting the animals.
A proposed new policy would give wardens more discretion to use nonlethal methods in handling the encounters, according to a story published Saturday in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The draft policy introduced Friday by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife would also establish a team of experts from around the state for wardens to consult with in dealing with mountain lions.
The proposal comes after several encounters last year, including one incident in December that outraged residents of Half Moon Bay when rangers shot and killed two mountain lion cubs found under a deck of a home.
Game wardens said at the time they didn't try to tranquilize the cubs because of concerns they might escape and become a threat to public safety.
Following the shooting, state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced a bill that would require wardens to tranquilize and relocate mountain lions that wander into backyards or other human-populated areas unless they are an imminent threat, while Fish and Wildlife director Charlton "Chuck" Bonham ordered a re-evaluation of the department's puma policies.
The proposed new policy would establish a "response guidance team" of experts to assist wardens with encounters. It would also increase training and direct staff to look into how rehabilitation and relocation programs might work.
There are an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 cougars in the state, and they are protected under the 1990 California Wildlife Protection Act, which also limits the ability of wardens to tranquilize, relocate and rehabilitate the felines, said Jordan Traverso, spokeswoman for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.