It doesn’t bring back the herds!

Let’s look at predation from the perspective of the management agencies and the funding model upon which they survive.

In a nutshell revenue comes from hunting and fishing licenses, and the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act, which is an excise tax on guns, ammunition, and other firearms accessories, collected by the federal government and reapportioned to the states according to hunting activity. The Dingell-Johnson Act offers similar financial support to states for fish restoration and management projects.

Where there is a monopoly of funding, it follows that there will also be a monopoly of policy and in the case of wildlife management it helps to take a very brief look back at how it happened.

Following westward expansion and settlement, wildlife became a commodity on a much larger scale than that of the early fur trappers who were scattered about the west. Massive herds were lost to commercial endeavor, bounties were put on large carnivores. Bears, mountain lions, and wolves were vilified, persecuted and in many places extirpated by wanton destruction. No-one really cared about the role of the predators, in fact, when the realization dawned that the ungulate herds were in trouble the hatred for the predators increased.

The ‘call to action’ to try and save elk and deer was the introduction of regulated hunting. The 10th amendment of the constitution gives states jurisdiction over the wildlife within their borders, so the first iteration of the modern day state wildlife agency was born.

In return for buying a license and agreeing to be limited in their opportunity to hunt by season and number of animals that could be removed from the population, a tacit agreement of sorts was seeded, that the agency would continue to do its best to provide a ‘crop’ of wildlife at a stable and sustainable rate. It is no coincidence that even though we know the very foundation of survival is the predator/prey relationship, and that is not, by any means a bad thing, hunters do not ‘kill’ their prey, they ‘harvest’ it.

Mountain lions eat deer. Mountain lions kill deer to eat them, they are good at it. Mountain lions and deer have lived together on the north american continent for at least the last 10,000 years and lions have not wiped out their food source!

When added pressure is put on lions and other predators as a way to recover herds it is palliative and political. It is done for the optics of seeming to take an action that will pacify constituents who think there is more control over the natural world than there is.

Biologists work hard to make sure that original tacit contract of providing regular crop to hunt and harvest. In fact, no species has actually been extirpated since hunting regulations became the acceptable method of wildlife management, although, the grizzly bear came awfully close.

But the question is, is this wildlife or agriculture in the wild?

Nature actually does not work to a schedule of production, it is wilder, less predictable, a series of highs and lows, adaptations, randomness.

That is why pretending that killing more mountain lions is going to bring back the herds is disingenuous, not only to the people who mistakenly believe it, but to the grand design that has so many more threads than just the single one you think you can control.

Attitudes! Are they based on Fact or fiction?

Why does The Cougar Fund invest so much time and energy in education? We really have to look no further than a quick overview of what people already think they know about mountain lions and the impact lions have on various aspects of human lives and interests.

Let’s start with the name, or to be more specific, the names.

Mountain lions, cougars, puma, catamount, painter, ghost cat, panther, klandaghi, these are just a few of the most common nouns for the large wild cat, technically, the puma concolor, or cat of one color. It is thought that many names came into existence because lions were so widespread and community interaction, especially in indigenous times, was limited, therefore, each tribe or settlement used their own term to describe a lion. However the descriptives came about, we do know that ancient members of the wild cat family, or felidae, existed with early man on the african continent, which we now understand to be the seat of humanity, so our history sharing the landscape with this magnificent and mysterious felid is a long one.

It is interesting that how we ‘feel’ about an animal’s name and presence often drives our attitude towards it and how we anticipate the behavior, even the ‘motives’ of that animal.

Completely wild! remote videography courtesy of David Neils.

Fear and public safety

In the previous paragraph describing our co-evolution with big cats, the presence of primal fear in the human animal, with its inherent lack of strength, speed, big teeth, and long strong claws, is quite understandable. Fast forward to the cognitive revolution and our ever developing ability to enhance the creative ways we can not only protect ourselves, but also destroy threats against us. We can use our powers of deductive reasoning to adapt to our environment in ways that will reduce the risks of harm coming to us, and allow us move about in places where wildlife is trying to eke out an existence in habitat that is being carved away. You will find specific details of how to live and recreate in cougar country here. Understanding the natural history and behavior of the mountain lion through education can be empowering, and can replace paralysing fear with respect.

Situational awareness, and the ability to stay calm, focused and know what to do in the event you find yourself, however unlikely, in a conflict situation, function like a seatbelt in a vehicle. It is not a 100% guarantee, but statistics show that such tools are your best protection. That, in addition to the cold hard fact that fatal attacks by mountain lions on the entire North American continent have numbered less than 30 in over 125 YEARS. We can put that in perspective if we understand that dogs kill, on average, about 30 people a year, the most vulnerable being young children, and cows, kill 20 people per year. More information that gives context to the risks of a wild animal attack can be found in this short video

You can now see, from what we have discussed, that the actual threat presented by living and recreating in mountain lion country is actually very small. The elusive and avoidant nature of mountain lions together with the statistical evidence that attacks are indeed, exceedingly rare, shows us that the public attitude may be based on a belief system about mountain lions that is based largely on incomplete information. That is why education is a huge priority for The Cougar Fund.

In our next blog we will continue to examine how attitudes shape responses to cougars when we look at hunters, hobby ranchers, and other livestock producers.