After a mountain lion killed and ate two goats at a property on Glen Canyon Road, the property owner got a permit from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in late March and had it shot to death.

State law allows homeowners to kill mountain lions if a Fish and Wildlife representative determines that their livestock has been injured or killed by a mountain lion. A handful of permits are issued in Santa Cruz County each year - four so far this year, in Larkin Valley, Scotts Valley and Davenport - and two pumas have been killed, said Fish and Wildlife Capt. Don Kelly. But puma advocates and Fish and Wildlife leaders said this week that there are alternatives to lethal force to deter the big cats.

"We really encourage people who have animals to put them in a pen and secure them at night," said Kelly.

Other alternatives include installing motion detecting lights to scare away pumas and keeping pet food indoors. Barking guard dogs also have worked to scare off mountain lions, but they too could become prey.

Kelly said that many people in the Santa Cruz Mountains who apply for "depredation" permits - to kill a mountain lion - own goats or sheep as a hobby. The livestock are not raised commercially, and some people own, say, two or three goats to eat grass so they don't have to mow it.

"If you have two goats or two sheep, it's not that difficult to put them in at night," said Yiwei Wang, a graduate student who works with UC Santa Cruz's Puma Project.


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The group tracks mountain lions and conducts research in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Wang and others have tried to work with land owners to provide alternatives to hunting pumas.

"Pumas are nocturnal predators. Goats and sheep can graze and be in the sun during the day," Wang said. "People who raise these animals should have to have some personal responsibility."

Members of the Puma Project said rural residents also should consider where they plant gardens. Deer and other animals often are attracted to vegetable gardens and snack on them, and pumas often follow those deer and attack them.

"The main thing we tell people around here is 'Try not to attract any wildlife to your property at all,'" said Sean McCain, a field researcher with the UCSC Puma Project.

"You've got to understand that you are in mountain lion territory."

In the Santa Cruz Mountains, the good news for biologists is that mountain lion numbers have held steady in recent years - although they tend to be young and live less than half the roughly 10-year lifespan of pumas in other areas, researchers said.

"It's like a neighborhood run by teenagers rather than adults," Wang said.

There are up to 70 pumas in the Santa Cruz Mountains and 2,500 to 3,000 in the state, according to researchers' estimates. The UCSC project includes about 15 pumas that are tagged to track their movements, Wang said.

In Santa Cruz County, Fish and Wildlife records show that at least 33 permits have been issued to kill mountain lions since the early 1970s, although officials acknowledged that number is low because of poor record keeping.

Kelly, of Fish and Wildlife, said he often talks and shares information with UCSC researchers about mountain lions. He said he and his staff typically visit landowners who want permits to kill a mountain lion, and they check for evidence that their animal was attacked by a mountain lion rather than a coyote or other animal. Coyotes tend to be sloppy eaters and pumas make deliberate incisions.

"We have a lot of suggestions we give them," Kelly said. Pumas are driven by basic instincts, he added. "They need to eat and reproduce."

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©2014 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.)

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