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Mountain lions dine on Diamond A sheep

A family of mountain lions has been killing sheep in Diamond A.

A family of mountain lions has been killing sheep in Diamond A.

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A family of mountain lions is suspected of killing and partially consuming as many as seven or eight domestic sheep in the Diamond A subdivision located along Grove Street on the southern flank of Sonoma Mountain.

The lions are believed to be a mother and two young-adult cubs, one of which was reportedly trapped and shot by a county predator control officer (or trapper) after it had killed sheep belonging to a Diamond A resident.

The first sign of a problem occurred on Feb. 1 when a ewe and two baby sheep were discovered slaughtered by a homeowner. The owner quickly requested officers from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to investigate. They determined the sheep were killed by a mountain lion and approved a predation permit that was exercised by the county trapper.

State policy generally requires that when a predatory animal is found to be responsible for a livestock kill, upon approval of a predation permit, the responsible predator is trapped and then shot.

Subsequently, in late February or early March, two more sheep were killed at a different Diamond A property, but the owners waited too long to call authorities, and by the time the trapper examined the carcasses the kills could not be connected to the lions.

The trap-and-shoot policy came under fire from animal rights advocates last year who argued a federal subsidy for the trapper program might require a full environmental impact report and should be shut down. Critics of the program have protested the policy of killing large predators like coyotes, lions and bears.

But Sonoma County Agricultural Commissioner Tony Linegar said Monday that only one or two predation permits are issued each year for mountain lions. “Coyotes are the most common predators,” he said. “They’re very common in Sonoma County, and they kill a lot of sheep.”

Bruce Hoadley, a Diamond A resident who has managed a Google group for neighbors commenting on the Mountain Lion issue and the sheep slaughter, said over the weekend he believed “the lions have pretty much got them all.”

Hoadley said the prevalence of domestic sheep is partly a product of the fact that typical Diamond A properties are two acres or more, and “that’s too much to mow,” so residents buy sheep and goats to graze on their grass.

Hoadley said he and his wife don’t have sheep, but his wife, Superior Court Judge Julie Conger, raises champion Portuguese water dogs that had been kept in a fenced-in dog run with overnight access to the house through dog doors. Now, said Hoadley, the dogs are kept inside at night, with the dog doors closed.

Hoadley said the sheep killings have taken place “very close to my house. I’m in the middle of it, and I’m concerned.”

He added that the immediacy of the issue was driven home when he was driving up Grove Street two weeks ago and came upon a stopped car in the road. “All of a sudden two lions walked right by us, walking down Grove Street. It looked like a mother lion and a young adult.”

No one has yet reported being threatened by a mountain lion in Diamond A, but one resident, Geri Randall, an attorney and mediator, insists the beasts represent a potentially lethal threat to residents and should be removed from the area. One reason for her concern, she said, is that in the “early ’80s, a woman who was the wife of a client, was attacked in Mill Valley while out jogging, and was killed.”

Randall admits, “I have no way to prove this,” because she cannot remember the name of the client, a fellow arbitrator, but she insists it occurred. Records compiled by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, as well as by other agencies and various wildlife organizations, do not show any mountain lion attacks in Marin County, and no fatalities.

But issues of what, if anything, happened to the alleged victim aside, Randall insists that’s not the issue. “The real issue,” she said, “is that lions are a threat to real people.”

Randall said, “I have noticed that the number of deer I am seeing is greatly diminished, and that may be why they’ve moved on to sheep.” She added that the presence of the lions has made her afraid. “Absolutely, I’m afraid. We have all these trees around, every time I go outside I look up at the trees” because mountain lions lie in wait for prey on tree branches, she said.

Randall was critical of the 1990 passage of Proposition 117 that gave protected status to mountain lions. “Environmental groups didn’t have enough evidence that the mountain lion was an endangered species – there was no scientific evidence the lion was in need of protection – so they passed an initiative instead.”

Randall describes herself as a “member of the Sierra Club. I am a rational environmentalist, versus an extremist. The rational ones are concerned about our pets and livestock, they are concerned for our safety. Once lions get accustomed to humans, they get over their shyness. … But the extreme conservationists are attempting to control the dialog.”

In an attempt to provide a better, rational understanding of steps to take in response to the presence of mountain lions, John Walsh, president of the Diamond A Neighborhood Association, said he is organizing an informational meeting for residents to hear wildlife experts, including officers from the Department of Fish and Wildlife, advise best practices to avoid further lion predation.

“We’re trying to gather the most accurate and current information, to have all the facts in hand for steps that can be taken,” he said. “The question you have to address, how do you minimize the risk, while in compliance with state law.”

Hoadley said one simple step now seems obvious. “It’s becoming clear,” he said, “it’s not a good idea to keep sheep.” He added that Fish and Wildlife experts have advised people not to walk alone at night, to carry sticks and walk with dogs when possible.

Richard Dale, executive director of the Sonoma Ecology Center, has written extensively about living in lion country (see Op-Ed on page B-7) and advises that most people are unaware of mountain lions living close by because the animals instinctively avoid people. There have been just three fatal mountain lion attacks in the state since 1986, out of 13 attacks overall in the same period. Confronted by a lion, Dale advises, “Do not behave like prey. Stand tall, back up but do not run, look it in the eye, raise your arms over your head, shout, throw things, and fight it if it attacks. Fatal encounters are very rare – a human is 700 times more likely to be killed by a deer.”

Dale also adds that removing a mountain lion from its territory may result in a younger, less-experienced lion taking its place, which could increase the chances of livestock predation and human encounters.

Meanwhile, there are no active requests for predation permits from Diamond A residents, to Walsh’s knowledge, and the furor over mountain lion kills may dissipate along with the resident sheep.

  • Village Idiot

    “The real issue,” she said, “is that lions are a threat to real people.”

    For an attorney, Ms. Randall seems uncharacteristically immune to evidence that zero “real” people have been injured or killed by mountain lions hereabouts, but that a process exists whereby people can and have gotten permits (i.e., license to kill) to slaughter coyotes and mountain lions for doing nothing more than feeding themselves on food sources set out for their disposal by humans. Unable to shop at Whole Foods, whole food is all the lions have to eat.

    It should also trouble an attorney/aibitrator/mediator that a license to kill a Prop 117- protected animal can be issued on nothing more than a quick and hearsay opinion of an officer from the CA Fish and Wildlife Commission (until recently called the Fish and GAME Commission). That body’s majority is firmly controlled by NRA-loving hunters whose passion is killing animals, a so-called sport still considered suitable to teach to children. Pound for pound, they and their supporters each year kill far more animals for amusement than all the state’s mountain lions combined kill for food.

    Moreover, were the Diamond A sheep in fact killed by a mountain lion, attorney Randall is apparently untroubled by the lack of any requirement that the mountain lion who may eventually be killed by virtue of a permit actually be the one that killed the sheep. The most vicious and depraved human serial killer would receive more due process than would be accorded a beautiful beast protected by law.

    Perhaps the ultimate insult to reason is that absent clear and convincing proof that the mountain lion to be killed would actually be the one who killed the sheep, there is no guarantee that its killing will solve the problem of dead sheep; the real sheep killer may remain on the loose. To put this tortured Fish and Wildlife logic in a human and humane framework: Imagine if the authorities, in response to a Latino gang killing, were issued a permit to shoot the first Latino gang member they came across.

    Thankfully, it appears cooler heads Walsh, Hoadley and Dale will guide the thinking on how to live safely and respectfully with and among Diamond A’s proud and beautiful mountain lions. With their help, the furor will hopefully dissipate, as it should. If not, the Valley may yet see a replay of the outrage visited on the trigger-happy Diamond A resident who in May, 2010 slaughtered two deer that dared invade his yard. Perhaps Ms. Randall would consider him a fellow “rational environmentalist.”

    • Greg C

      Sorry but you’re wrong.

  • Nathan Solomon

    mountain lions have existed with humans on Diamond A since those homes were built. i grew up on grove street. Not one person has ever been attacked there – and that’s with decades worth of kids growing up on that hill walking around unattended by adults. the notion they have to be removed because some people are fearful of them is irrational. please, get a hobby people. the hillsides in sonoma county are RURAL. wild animals live there.

  • Michael Anthony Donegan

    Those of is who remember the old days of California, can certainly tell you of stories of, Coyotes, Foxes, Deer, sometimes a Bear, Mountain Lions and the thousands of Rodents that have lived here, way before any Mission was ever built. We think that an Animal in our neighbor, violates our boundrys. Unfortunately we think we are higher. I would like to think the same would apply to the numerous kids who violate our fence line here in a Sonoma or try to Break into our Businesses… Yes, we still assume we are the higher member of the Food Chain. Unfortunately, some of us don’t. If you see a Cat or a Buck, move in the other Direction, the Fear is true but more stubborn is the belief that a Goat or Lamb is more valuable than a Lion feeding it’s family… Lock up your Pets… people

  • Sonoma Mountain Man

    The covenants of Diamond A allow only horses and domestic pets such as dogs and cats. Livestock such as sheep and goats are not allowed for the residents of Diamond A. These people are luring the lions and other predators to residential areas. They are the ones who should be penalized, not the lions who are just following their predatory nature. Ms. Randall is an alarmist and speaks with no truth or facts behind her hysteria and no motive other than her narcissistic endeavors.

    These lions are beautiful to behold and an integral piece of the natural food chain which exists on the mountain, helping to manage and control the diverse bio systems that exist there. Perhaps it would be best for The Mountain if Ms. Randall and her tales of fear leave with all the sheep and goats.

  • Sonoma Mountain Man

    Wow, lions feeding on penned up sheep and goats? Eating deer? Duh! The covenants of Diamond A only allow horses and domestic pets. Livestock such as sheep and goats are prohibited for residents of Diamond A. Perhaps for this very reason. It is the people who are breaking the rules and luring these beautiful animals into residential areas that should be punished, not the lions.

    Ms. Randall has been serving up her hysteria and fear mongering with no true facts and has rejected all rational and scientific-based evidence presented to her. Her only motive seems to be furthering her narcissistic goals.

    These animals are a welcome and integral piece of the diverse bio system that we have here on Sonoma Mountain. As anyone with any knowledge of biodiversity knows, eliminate one integral piece and the entire biosphere can be destroyed.

    As a thirty-four year resident of Diamond A, I believe perhaps it is best for all if Ms. Randall and her fear mongering hysteria leave the Mountain with the sheep and goats and leave the tranquility and beauty of the Mountain to those who truly appreciate it.

  • Justincase Weego

    Here we go again. Wild animals in rural areas, too many wine tasting rooms in the Plaza at the center of the Wine Country, too many leaf blowers, etc. These people need to look around at some real problems. Are there hungry children? Do they have a place to sleep? Get a grip folks. Life’s too short to actually complain about wild animals out in the wild. Who was here first, anyway?

  • Justincase Weego

    I’m hoping Ms. Randall reads the comments regarding her statements to the Editor. Remember Ms. Randall, if you put out the bait, the predators will bite. I agree with the Sonoma Mountain Man. You need to live in the City. Thanks for your time.

  • Gus Colgain

    Mountain lions, also called panther and cougars, are notoriously shy animals, and as a rule only hunt at night. They tend to avoid all human contact, but are seen in urban developments as their hunting grounds are encroached upon. There are very few and far between instances of these animals attacking humans – I seriously doubt if there have been more than a handful of incidents in the past 100 years. Get a grip, people. Any perceived threats are miniscule.

  • TShore

    Dear Editor,

    As a natural way to help keep deer and mountain lion populations in check, how about re-introducing native Grizzly Bears? It might also reduce the number of pesky people, too.

    Teri Shore