CITY HALL ¬ó Animal rights activists are pressing for an agreement with the Department of Fish and Game that would allow professionals outside of the state agency to help tranquilize large animals.

The effort comes in the wake of the death of a young male mountain lion which was shot in late May by Santa Monica Police officers after attempts to sedate the animal failed.

When activists met with the police to discuss the situation last week, they found out that only Fish and Game officials are permitted to tranquilize mountain lions, said Jack Carone, director of communications for In Defense of Animals, one of the organizations that’s been following the case.

“If it had been a bear, they can shoot them,” Carone said. “Mountain lions are limited strictly to the Department of Fish and Game.”

That was a problem May 22, the day that the mountain lion was found holed up in the courtyard of the Santa Monica College Emeritus building and Fish and Game officials were stuck in traffic.

While there were professionals in the community with experience tranquilizing large cats, they could not be called on to help the situation.

An agreement with the department might help that situation, and In Defense of Animals has committed to make sure that the matter stays on the frontburner, Carone said.

The group promises to “raise its hand again” if negotiations fall by the wayside.

Officials from the Department of Fish and Game were not available Monday for comment.

In the meantime, In Defense of Animals and other organizations are pushing forward in support of a more permanent solution that might prevent a similar crisis from cropping up in the future.

The California Department of Transportation and members of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy have been working to expand the amount of territory that the big cats can wander by giving them ways around their biggest obstacles ¬ó freeways.

Freeways divide much of Southern California in what has proven to be a near-impenetrable barrier to animals like mountain lions.

That forces the creatures to wander into densely populated urban areas rather than their natural habitat that lies on the other side of the busy road.

Even a small mountain lion population like the one near Santa Monica needs a lot more territory than the Santa Monica Mountains afford them, said Kristeen Penrod, conservation director with the Science & Collaboration for Connected Wildlands.

According to National Geographic, only a few of the big cats can survive in a 30-square mile range.

The Science & Collaboration for Connected Wildlands looks at ways to link key areas of habitat to give the animals more room to roam both for the health of the group and to keep them out of the way of humans.

“One choke point they have to get across is the freeway,” Penrod said. “The idea is to link them to open space on either side.”

Science & Collaboration for Connected Wildlands identified 15 spots that needed to open up in order to protect the populations of mountain lions, mule deer and other animals penned in by the freeways.

One of them is Liberty Canyon, a spot on the 101 Freeway between the Santa Monica and Sierra Madre mountains.

Caltrans proposes to build a wildlife crossing at Liberty Canyon that would let animals cross under the freeway and give them an outlet to expanded habitat.

Paul Edelman is the chief ecologist for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and proponent of the project.

He likened the Santa Monica Mountains to a cul-de-sac, and the mountain lion killed in May to a person caught in the cul-de-sac after a high-speed chase.

“They’re going to get out of their cars and run. That’s what the lion did,” Edelman said.

The projects require tunneling under the freeway, and they’re expensive, Edelman said.

“Once you get to a certain dimension of the underpass, it requires special shoring to make sure the deck of the freeway doesn’t fall as you cross underneath it. It’s a multi-million dollar project competing against a lot of other projects,” Edelman said.

Caltrans applied for a Transportation Enhancement grant in 2011 to solve the funding problem, but it didn’t win, said Caltrans spokesperson Patrick Chandler.

The agency will apply for the funds again, officials confirmed.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.