• Cal-Wild Is Keeping Its Word •
BY ANNE SOBLE
Now that the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife is increasingly comfortable with its new name, the powerful potential of semantic repercussion is becoming evident. In the first few weeks of its operation as Cal-Wild, DFW’s approach to the state’s wildlife resources have conservationists hopeful that substantive change is underway. Apex predators are finally getting the respect they deserve because their well-being is critical to all species throughout the animal resource chains in the state.
Last week, a new mountain lion policy that would give California wardens more options besides killing cougars was proposed after public outrage over several recent lethal encounters with the great cats, including the shooting of two cubs weighing less than 13 pounds each. Game wardens said they didn’t tranquilize and transport the cubs because of concerns they might escape and become a threat to public safety. Envision armed adults cowering in fear at a dozen pounds of killing machine running amok.
The draft policy is the first new policy for mountain lions. It gives wardens more discretion to use nonlethal methods and establishes a team of experts from around the state for wardens to consult when dealing with the predators and increases training and research on possible rehabilitation and relocation programs. The estimated 3500 to 5000 cougars in the wild are covered under the 1990 California Wildlife Protection Act, but that limits the ability of wardens to tranquilize, relocate and rehabilitate animals.
Experts say the elusive cats usually avoid people. Since 1890, mountain lions have killed 21 people in North America as compared with an average of more than that many people every year being killed by domestic canines, and the hundreds who are seriously bitten by man’s best friend.
Also last month, the apex marine predator—the great white sharks off the coast of California—could swim more freely as the commission designated them candidates for future listing under the state’s Endangered Species Act. The planet’s largest predatory fish has been off-limits to commercial and sport fishing under state law for 20 years, but whites, especially juveniles, are unintentional “by-catch” in gill-net fishing in areas such as off Malibu. Gill-net fishers will be required to obtain special state by-catch permits allowing the incidental snaring of whites. Violations would be treated as criminal misdemeanors, but it has not yet been determined what the penalties might be.
The commission voted last month to name the great white shark as the first marine animal granted candidate designation under the state Endangered Species Act. If formally listed, fishery management bodies would be required to develop ways to minimize by-catch. Candidate status carries the same legal force as actual listing.
The commission acted after studies were presented that showed adults and sub-adults of the species numbered fewer than 350 in two key feeding grounds off central California and Baja. Everyone should share an interest in keeping the great white population healthy since it is vital to maintaining the population of sea lions and other marine mammals that impact the state’s valuable fisheries.
In a year, the Fish and Wildlife Department will recommend whether great white sharks warrant formal listing, with the commission making the final decision. Environmental groups are also lobbying to list California’s great whites under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
When wildlife is more than “game,” the rules of play can be adjusted to their and the planet’s advantage.