SACRAMENTO -- Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation Friday offering sweeping new protections to mountain lions, the state's top predator.

The bill by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, prevents California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens from killing lions that venture into populated areas unless they pose an urgent public safety threat. It authorizes the department to work with rescue and other nongovernmental groups in capturing, tranquilizing or relocating the animals.

Tim Dunbar, executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Lion Foundation, called the success of SB 132 "mind-boggling." The foundation lobbied the Department of Fish and Wildlife for years to cease what Dunbar's organization viewed as the needless killing of cougars that were spotted around people. But the fight went nowhere until December, when the fatal shooting of two cubs in Half Moon Bay finally tipped the scales.

"This is landmark legislation, first of its kind," said Dunbar. "It's hard to believe that something like the incident in Half Moon Bay has led to this. It's a great day here."

Wardens will now be required to capture or scare off a cougar unless it poses an imminent threat to public health or safety, which Hill's legislation defines as "a situation where a mountain lion exhibits one or more aggressive behaviors directed toward a person that is not reasonably believed to be due to the presence of responders."

The shooting in Half Moon Bay triggered public outrage against the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Wardens citing public safety concerns killed two house cat-size cubs, believed to have been orphaned siblings, as they cowered in a back yard above a creek that separates downtown from a vast area of open space.


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The Department of Fish and Wildlife changed its protocols in March for responding to mountain lion sightings. SB 132, which uses language that is similar to the new guidelines, stamps the new philosophy into law.

Dunbar claims California is now the first state to afford lions such legal protections. Wardens in Washington and other states sometimes employ nonlethal methods when dealing with cougars, he said, but not as a matter of law.

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.