For Immediate Release, January 11, 2018
Contact: J.P. Rose, Center for Biological Diversity, (408) 497-7675, firstname.lastname@example.org
Pam Nelson, Sierra Club, (951) 767-2324, email@example.com
Lynn Cullens, Mountain Lion Foundation, (916) 606-1610, firstname.lastname@example.org
Vicki Long, Cougar Connection, (951) 698-9366, email@example.com
Lawsuit Challenges Development That Could Doom California's Santa Ana Mountain Lions
TEMECULA, Calif.— Conservation organizations sued the city of Temecula today for approving the Altair housing development, which would endanger the local mountain lion population by disrupting critical wildlife corridors. The groups include the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Mountain Lion Foundation and Cougar Connection.
Today’s suit, filed in Riverside County Superior Court, notes that the Altair project would urbanize approximately 200 acres of open space for a mixed-use development and a multi-lane highway in the hills above Old Town Temecula. Part of the development sits on the 55-acre “South Parcel” — the only passage left for wildlife to move between coastal and inland mountains through the Santa Margarita River, Temecula Creek and the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve, which are adjacent to the project.
“The city council’s Altair approval ignored scientists’ warnings that developing the South Parcel will severely limit mountain lion movement in Southern California,” said J.P. Rose, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s deeply disturbing that the city refused to make reasonable modifications to the development to avoid damaging a critical corridor for these iconic predators.”
As few as 20 adult Santa Ana mountain lions survive, and they suffer from severe genetic restriction because overdevelopment already curtails their movements.
“The project’s poor design will put mountain lions directly into residential areas, creating conflicts between lions and people,” said Lynn Cullens of the Mountain Lion Foundation. “These lions already suffer from high mortality rates, vehicle collisions, and a lack of genetic diversity due to urban sprawl and highways. Altair could be the final nail in the coffin for this crucial population of magnificent animals.”
“Scientists have documented consistent use of the South Parcel by mountain lions,” said Vicki Long of Cougar Connection. “The city should be strengthening this critical corridor instead of literally putting up barriers to mountain lion movement.”
Altair also does not do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that fuel climate change. “Even though the city has a duty to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of the project, the city did not even require common sense measures like rooftop solar,” said Pam Nelson of the Sierra Club’s Santa Margarita Group, which has spent over a year coordinating with the city and other agencies in an effort to ensure the development complies with the law.
The project would install homes within a few feet of the proposed “western bypass” highway in the hills above Old Town Temecula. The western bypass would not only scar these scenic hills, but would expose Altair residents to significant automotive pollution that can lead to higher rates of asthma, lung cancer and premature death.
The conservation organizations repeatedly raised these concerns in comment letters, public hearings and meetings with the city. The city’s approval of the project violates the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires that when environmental impacts are significant, the approving agency must adopt all feasible mitigation measures and alternatives to reduce those impacts. The city’s approval of the project also violates the Western Riverside County Multiple Species Habitat Conservation Plan.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide. In addition to creating opportunities for people of all ages, levels and locations to have meaningful outdoor experiences, the Sierra Club works to safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and litigation.
The Mountain Lion Foundation is a national non-profit organization founded in 1986. For 30 years, the Foundation has worked with member volunteers, activists and partner organizations to create and further wildlife policies that seek to protect mountain lions, people and domestic animals without resorting to lethal measures. For more information, visit mountainlion.org.
Cougar Connection is a non-profit, public interest organization that is dedicated to the preservation of Puma concolor, Cougar populations, open space, wildlife connectivity, and public education.
Alexa has been instrumental to the success of The Secret Lives of Mountain Lions, and we wanted to ask her a few questions about her participation and see how her experience has been. We hope you enjoy hearing from Alexa about what it has been like working on a project with the potential to affect large-scale environmental decisions.
What attracted you to this project?
I was so excited at the opportunity to work on this project! It combines my passion for wildlife, education and the Spanish language.
I have always loved wildlife. I grew up in and out of the garden, playing with insects. In my teens I monitored rocky intertidal pools and started working for wildlife hospitals, bringing home orphaned wildlife to be hand-raised until they were old enough to be released. In college I studied biology, neuroscience and behavior and dedicated my time outside of school to wildlife medicine. With this experience, I considered myself not only a wildlife advocate, but somewhat of an expert.
When I first saw this footage, I was surprised. The cougars in this footage completely shifted my perspective on the species, forcing me to reconsider so much of what I thought I knew about the species. I believe that this footage has the power to do the same for many more, and this is so important for the conservation of these animals. When our perspectives shift, and we begin to cultivate compassion for mountain lions, ceasing to see them as solitary and only aggressive creatures, we are so much more likely to create space and habitat for them. Like many species, mountain lions biggest threat to survival is human activity. Between developing natural habitats, and trophy hunting, we are pushing mountain lions into smaller and smaller pockets of their range. In order to change this trend, we need to change the way we relate to mountain lions, and the narratives we have created about them. In shifting our perspectives towards mountain lions and other species, cultivating compassion for them and creating space, I believe we also recognize the humanity within ourselves.
What did you contribute to this film?
In order to make La vida secreta de los pumas accessible to the greatest number of Spanish-speakers, I contacted several Spanish speaking biologists both in the U.S. and Latin America. Knowing that within Latin America, there are many different versions of Spanish spoken, we wanted to choose our words and descriptions carefully, so that the largest amount of people would understand. For instance, what I initially thought we might call the video, the direct translation of “The Secret Life of Mountain Lions”, is not what we ended up calling the film, or the term we most commonly used. In fact, most people throughout Latin America know Mountain Lions as “pumas” or “león americano”. Some do refer to the species as “león de montaña”, the direct translation of mountain lion, but this was not the most widely used word, so did not end up being used a lot in the translated script. Along with the help of biologists, friends and a professional translator, and many back and forth conversations, we finally settled on a version. I learned an incredible amount about the Spanish language and the skill of translation in the process.
We were lucky to find Jorge Vázquez Pacheco. We cast a large net, asking our contacts in Latin America if they had any recommendations. We got sample recordings from radio show hosts, actors and others from all across North, Central and South America. We ultimately selected Jorge because we thought he had both a neutral accent and a very clear, expressive way of speaking. He was a joy to work with.
Why did you chose to work with WildFutures?
Previous to working for WildFutures, nearly all of my professional career has been spent doing direct animal care. Upon graduating from college, I set off to gain as much wildlife medicine experience as possible, moving from wildlife hospital, to exotic animal sanctuary, to zoo, learning as much as I could. While I loved the interaction of working with individual animals, I was ultimately somewhat disheartened by the scope of my work. I often could not do nearly as much as I wanted to, and what I was able to do ended with that individual. I found myself looking for work that could go beyond individual patient care, and reach a broader audience, potentially shaping the future for wild animal welfare. Luckily, I met Sharon and she has bravely taken a chance with me, allowing me to participate in this project which I so wholeheartedly believe in.
Have you ever seen a mountain lion in the wild?
While I have never seen a mountain lion in the wild directly, I have had many close encounters with this species. First, when I was in my early twenties, I worked at a zoo as part of a veterinary team. Several times while there I worked with a mountain lion named Johnny, who had been raised by a human family until they had to move and were forced to give him up. While we examined him he would purr and lick our hands through the fence constantly, always incredibly affectionate. Although it sadenned me to see him so confined, living a life so removed from that of a wild mountain lion, I still enjoyed opportunities to interact with him.
More recently however, I have interacted with mountain lions in a different way. I have had the pleasure of monitoring the wildlife camera traps of the ranch that I live on. Nearly once a month we see the same mountain lion traversing across the property. He has an ocular defect in one eye and is known to nearby biologists as Harvey. Although I have never seen him without the help of the cameras, I get great pleasure in the knowledge that I share my space and home with this animal.
Legal Victory Guarantees Analysis of Wildlife Services’ Killings in Northern California
SAN FRANCISCO— In response to a lawsuit filed by wildlife advocacy groups, a San Francisco federal court today approved a settlement requiring the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to implement numerous protections for wildlife in Northern California, including a ban on traps and aerial gunning in designated “wilderness areas.”
Today’s settlement also requires Wildlife Services to analyze the environmental impacts of its killing of coyotes, bobcats and other wildlife in 16 counties in Northern California.
The ironically named Wildlife Services is a multimillion-dollar federal program that uses painful leghold traps, strangulation snares, poisons and aerial gunning to kill wolves, coyotes, cougars, birds and other wild animals — primarily to benefit the agriculture and livestock industries.
“This is a big victory for California wildlife targeted by this federal program’s horrifically destructive war on animals,” said Collette Adkins, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney representing the conservation groups involved in the lawsuit. “We’ve saved hundreds of animals that would have suffered and died in traps set by Wildlife Services over the next several years. That feels really good.”
Under the court order approved today, Wildlife Services must provide, by the end of 2023, an “environmental impact statement” that analyzes the effects and risks of its wildlife-killing program in California’s North District. The North District includes Butte, Del Norte, Glenn, Humboldt, Lassen, Mendocino, Modoc, Nevada, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba counties.
Pending completion of that study, which will include robust public commenting opportunities, the court order imposes several measures to protect wildlife in the North District. It bans the use of M-44 cyanide devices, den fumigants and lead ammunition. It bans aerial gunning and any use of body-gripping traps, such as strangulation snares and steel-jaw leghold traps, in designated wilderness and wilderness study areas. The order also requires Wildlife Services to implement several measures to protect California’s endangered gray wolves from being accidentally killed in traps set for other carnivores. These measures include a ban on Conibear traps and non-breakaway snares in areas used by the wolves.
“Wolves are just starting to return to their native habitats in Northern California, and this settlement provides needed interim protections to protect wolves while a detailed environmental study examines whether lethal wildlife ‘management’ options should even be on the table,” said Erik Molvar of Western Watersheds Project. “It is long past time that federal agencies stop the killing of native wildlife at the behest of the livestock industry, and ultimately we hope that the added public scrutiny will force a shift to nonlethal options.”
Last year Wildlife Services reported killing 1.6 million native animals nationwide. In California alone this total included 3,893 coyotes, 142 foxes, 83 black bears, 18 bobcats and thousands of other creatures. Nontarget animals — including protected wildlife such as wolves, Pacific fisher and eagles — are at risk from Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate methods.
“For over two decades, Wildlife Services has relied on cruel and outdated methods, such as steel-jaw leghold traps, in California — despite a statewide ban on private use of such devices,” said Tara Zuardo, Animal Welfare Institute wildlife attorney. “Today’s decision from the court ensures the environmental analysis of the program’s killing of wildlife will receive a much-needed update. California wildlife deserves this protection.”
“Wildlife Services’ lethal ‘control’ is ineffective, wasteful and cruel,” said Michelle Lute, wildlife coexistence campaigner for WildEarth Guardians. “We are changing this clandestine government program state-by-state until wildlife and people are safe on our public lands.”
“With this victory for wildlife we have demonstrated that Wildlife Services has failed to use the best available science and continues to rely on ecologically destructive and ethically indefensible management practices,” said Camilla Fox, founder and executive director of Project Coyote. “It is past time that this rogue agency shifts to more effective, humane, and ecologically sound ways of reducing conflicts between wildlife and agricultural interests.”
“Thousands of California wildlife will now have a much needed reprieve from the federal killing agency,” said Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “This settlement sends the powerful message that Wildlife Services’ indiscriminate killing programs will not go unchallenged.”
The victory announced today is the result of a lawsuit filed in June by the Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds Project, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Project Coyote, the Animal Welfare Institute and WildEarth Guardians.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.5 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.
The Animal Welfare Institute (awionline.org) is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere — in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild.
Project Coyote is a national nonprofit organization and a North American coalition of wildlife educators, scientists, ranchers, and community leaders promoting coexistence between people and wildlife, and compassionate conservation through education, science, and advocacy. For more information, visitwww.projectcoyote.org.
Western Watersheds Project is an environmental conservation group working to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife
WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers and health of the American West.
Cougars are a uniquely adapted creature. They are perfectly evolved to live in their natural habitat, from climbing to running to swimming. They are incredible athletes, without needing to go to a gym a single day in their lives. They do get coaching from their mothers for the first 6 months or so of their lives, but they are born with physical characteristics that make them very well suited to living in the wooded hills and plains throughout their range. Those characteristics make them the beautiful and competent apex predators that they are. Here are a few of their physical characteristics that make them into the perfect balanced package of agility and strength - and beauty.
Cougars are excellent climbers. Not only can they simply leap vertically up to 25 feet, they have highly-curved retractable claws that allow them to grip the tree for climbing.
Mountain lion paws are 3" to 5" wide, and they are about as long as wide, so their tracks are described as square or circular. Their front paws are larger than their back paws. Their wide paws probably help them swim, among many other things they are useful for. Mountain lions have been recorded swimming for 15 minutes and more at a time, and they aren't afraid of water at all.
Cougars have very long tails, which help them to balance. Do you notice anything that looks different about this cougar than many of the others we feature on this site? This cougar lives in captivity. You can tell by the fat belly, which you might recognize if you know any older domestic housecats, who tend to develop the same characteristic.
Cougars have relatively flat faces with prominent front-facing eyes. Their eyes allow them to see a single object with both eyes at the same time (that's called stereoscopic vision, and humans have it too). That's very important to depth perception and the ability to stalk prey. You can't see it in this picture, but they also have a special adaptation to their retinas that gives them great night vision.
With hiking and camping season coming right up in most of the places where mountain lions live, we thought this would be a good time to talk about good mountain lion safety practices for being in the outdoors.
First, you should know that you have incredibly small odds of even seeing a cougar at all, let alone having an interaction with one. If you do see one in a safe manner, you should consider yourself extremely lucky! Very few people in the world will get to see something as awe-inspiring as a wild mountain lion. The threat of a dangerous encounter is very rare.
If you do have an encounter with a cougar it will help to know what steps you can take. You can do this by making noise when you are hiking and biking, especially at dawn and dusk. Travel together with friends. If you enjoy the outdoors with children (we hope you do!), have children stay close to adults.
If you see a cougar at a close range, first and foremost, don't run! And, make yourself look big. Don't bend down to pick up a stick, but if you are already carrying a walking stick or wearing a jacket you can raise it above your head to make yourself look as big as possible. You'll want to use your voice to talk in a loud firm voice and tell the cougar to get away. This video from Western Wildlife Outreach does a great job of showing a demonstration of what this looks like. http://westernwildlife.org/videos/ (it's the first video on the page). Plus it's narrated by Chris Morgan, the same fine voice talent that narrated our Secret Life of Mountain Lions video!
We hope you have great plans this summer for adventures in the wide-open spaces that support cougars AND humans in important wild ways! For more information on how to avoid a negative encounter with a mountain lion, bear or wolf, go to Western Wildlife Outreach website http://westernwildlife.org/videos/
Rat poison kills far more than just rats. The poison, or rodenticide as it's also known, accumulates in the small rodents, which are then eaten by larger animals. This is a problem virtually everywhere, and for all kinds of predators from hawks to bobcats.
Here at The Secret Life of Mountain Lions we were saddened by this recent report of a bobcat that had to be euthanized in the Santa Monica area in California. It's not likely that anyone is trying to poison the big cats on purpose. But the poison makes its way up the food chain without anyone's intent. According to the Santa Monica Mountains Fund, eleven out of twelve mountain lions in their area tested positive for two or more rodent toxin poisons.
What can you do? Educating yourself and those in your neighborhood is always the first step. An organization called Raptors Are The Solution has a great set of tips for alternative ways to manage rodents. And The Hungry Owl Project also has insightful information about how rodenticides get into the food chain, and a very cool suggestion for rodenticide-free management techniques!
You can also spread the word by sharing alternatives with your family, friends, and neighbors, or posting on Facebook and Twitter with the buttons below. Thank you for your help!
Ask nearly anyone who has had the experience of seeing a cougar in the wild, and you will hear words like amazing, surreal, and profound. The odds of seeing a cougar at all are very slim, and the chances of having a negative interaction with a cougar are smaller still. But with hiking season approaching soon, we thought it would be a good idea to talk about some safety tips for being outdoors in mountain lion territory.
Fortunately for us, The Western Wildlife Outreach has already compiled some great tips, including things about protecting your pets and livestock if you live in mountain lion country. Have a look here http://westernwildlife.org/cougar-outreach-project/tips-for-coexistence-with-cougars and then let us know if you have any more of your own tips to add.
Enjoy your hikes!