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Calif. Officials Seek New Mountain Lion Policy After Cubs Killed

HALF MOON BAY (CBS SF) -- Less than two months after state game wardens fatally shot two mountain lion cubs in Half Moon Bay, environmentalists, politicians and the public are pushing for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop new standards for handling cougars that come into contact with humans.

State Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, plans to introduce legislation that will change California's laws to allow the department to partner with wildlife nonprofits to rescue injured or orphaned mountain lions that wander too far into human territory.

"The safety of Californians is priority number one, but the law needs to be changed to give wardens more non-lethal options when dealing with the increasing number of mountain lion encounters in our neighborhoods," Hill said.

It is currently illegal to rehabilitate mountain lions in California.

In two separate high-profile encounters in San Mateo County since 2011, three mountain lions found themselves cornered in backyards and were shot and killed by game wardens out of fear for public safety.

Both incidents raised questions about whether the animals could have been tranquilized, trapped or somehow spared being destroyed.

"The people of California want alternatives to lethal action," Wildlife Emergency Services CEO Rebecca Dmytryck said.

Dmytryck, whose Monterey-based animal rescue group recovers and rehabilitates distressed birds and animals around the Bay Area, has formed a Mountain Lion Rehabilitation Committee, a group of wildlife experts that aims to develop a set of standards for rescuing mountain lions from situations where they can be safely removed and rehabilitated in privately-funded sanctuaries.

"This group emerged from the aftermath of the cougar incident in Half Moon Bay," Dmytryck said.

On Dec. 1, Department of Fish and Wildlife game wardens shot two malnourished 4-month-old mountain lions that had been spotted seeking shelter in a residential neighborhood on the outskirts of Half Moon Bay.

The cats were initially thought to be larger than they actually were, and were believed to be posing a threat to residents and their pets, state fish and game officials said.

However, a necropsy concluded that the orphaned animals were hungry, each weighing less than 15 pounds.

Killing the animals caused a "tremendous outcry," Dmytryck said, and many believe the cubs could have been safely removed and rehabilitated if sanctuaries had been available.

Successful mountain lion rehabilitation programs have been established in Washington and Florida, where nearly a dozen panthers have been rescued and released, Dmytryck said.

Following the incident in Half Moon Bay, Department of Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham asked his department to evaluate its procedures for handling interactions with mountain lions, department spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said today.

The department is preparing a report that could reach Bonham's desk by the end of January, Traverso said.

The details of the report and the changes in state policy it could recommend were not available, but the department's director was "very serious" about reevaluating how it confronts mountain lions in certain situations, Traverso said.

Hill will hold a news conference Friday to announce his legislation on mountain lion policy.

The announcement will take place at 10 a.m. at the CuriOdyssey wildlife museum in San Mateo, located at 1651 Coyote Point Drive.

(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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