Photo by U.S Forest Service.

Remember — we live in mountain lion country

It’s a story that made international news — two brothers searching for deer atlers near Georgetown, California last Saturday had a deadly encounter with a mountain lion that killed the older brother and left the younger one with severe injuries to his face.

The lion was euthenized later that day.

According to the California Department of Fish and Game, since 1890, there have been fewer than 50 verified mountain lion attacks on humans in California, and of those, only six have been fatal. A mountain lion killed a human in 2004 in Orange County — the last reported fatality.

This mountain lion peers down from a tree on Diamond Mountain Golf Course after being roused from some nearby brush in October 2017. Photo by Bryan Sherman

While mountain lion attacks on humans are rare, CDFW offers these tips.

Staying safe in mountain lion country

  • Mountain lions are quiet, solitary and elusive, and typically avoid people.
  • Mountain lion attacks on humans are extremely rare. However, conflicts are increasing as California’s human population expands into mountain lion habitat.
  • Do not hike, bike, or jog alone.
  • Avoid hiking or jogging when mountain lions are most active – dawn, dusk, and at night.
  • Keep a close watch on small children.
  • Do not approach a mountain lion.
  • If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms; throw rocks or other objects. Pick up small children.
  • If attacked, fight back.
  • If a mountain lion attacks a person, immediately call 911.
Arriving before the trapper and wildlife officials, local wildlife photographer Randy Robbins got a photo of this unhealthy, elderly mountain lion near the old hospital in April 2019. The lion reportedly consumed three house cats in the neighborhood before it was captured and euthanized.

Living in mountain lion country

  • Don’t feed deer; it is illegal in California and it will attract mountain lions.
  • Deer-proof your landscaping by avoiding plants that deer like to eat. For tips, request A Gardener’s Guide to Preventing Deer Damage from DFG offices.
  • Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.
  • Don’t leave small children or pets outside unattended.
  • Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house.
  • Provide sturdy, covered shelters for sheep, goats and other vulnerable animals.
  • Don’t allow pets outside when mountain lions are most active — dawn, dusk and at night.
  • Bring pet food inside to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums and other potential mountain lion prey.

Here are two stories regarding mountain lions in our region from the Lassen News archives.

May 8, 2018 • Two mountain lion sightings concern Susanville residents
Two separate and apparently unrelated recent mountain lions sightings in the Susanville area have some residents on edge.

Brian Ehler, a biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he was familiar with a sighting near the Susanville Rancheria, but he hadn’t heard about a second series of sightings near the Diamond Mountain Golf Course — including one in which a couple walking their dog came upon a protective lion eating a small fawn.

“The mountain lion encounter Friday, April 27, (near the Rancheria) was a sub adult lion and classified as a sighting,” Ehler said. “I am unfamiliar with the incident this past weekend (near the golf course), however, a mountain lion killing a deer would typically be classified as a sighting.

Ehler offered the following information and advice to the public regarding the interaction between humans and the tawny felines.

Potential human conflict
A mountain lion that is found in an unusual location and/or is demonstrating unusual behavior could reasonably be perceived as having potential to cause severe injury or death to humans creates a conflict.

Public safety
A mountain lion demonstrating aggressive action that has resulted in physical contact with a human, or a mountain lion exhibiting an immediate threat to public health and safety, given the totality of circumstances, could be considered a public safety threat.

An immediate threat refers to a mountain lion that exhibits one or more aggressive behaviors toward a person that is not reasonably believed to be due to the presence of responders.

Public safety threats include situations where a mountain lion remains a threat despite efforts to allow or encourage it through active means to leave the area.

In this case, immediately call 911. If you are attacked, fight back.

An animal is seen by the public and is not displaying unusual behavior. In this case, call Ehler at (530) 340-6808 to report the sighting.

If you encounter a mountain lion, do not run; instead, face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger by waving your arms. Throw rocks or other objects and pick up small children.

If you live in mountain lion habitat, CDFW recommends installing motion-activated lighting outside around the house and other buildings, trimming brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions and feeding pets inside.

Do not leave small children and pets outside unattended, and don’t allow pets outside at dawn, dusk or at night.  Do not hike, bike or jog alone. Avoid hiking, biking or jogging at dawn, dusk or at night.

Mountain lion(s) immediately threatening to cause damage, in the act of causing damage, or has caused damage to private property may be subject to depredation. In this case, call Ehler at (530) 340-6808 for a depredation permit to remove the mountain lion.

All reported incidents
Depredation, sightings, potential human conflict and human safety are tracked by CDFW in an online database through the Wildlife Incident Report system.

Age classes
Ehler said mountain lions are classified into three age classes: Adult, sub adult (a mountain lion that appears nearly full-grown based on size, appearance and behavior. Sub-adults may travel with the mother, but are considered capable of surviving on their own in the absence of the mother), and dependent young (mountain lion kittens, cubs, or young that are considered dependent upon the mother for survival as evidenced by their size, appearance, behavior or the knowledge that the mother is/was lactating).

April 25, 2018 • Mountain lion kills horse near Spanish Creek in Quincy
A 32-year-old mare was killed by a mountain lion in the predawn hours of April 16 on the west end of Quincy, along Spanish Creek off Beskeen Lane, east of Gansner Park.

Accessed from the county park off Highway 70, as well as along Beskeen, the south side of the creek is a popular gathering place year-round for joggers, students, picnickers and families with pets.

The community is urged to exercise caution and be aware while in the area; mountain lions are nocturnal and opportunistic predators.

The lion was determined to be female and in the company of two “very tiny” kittens, according to California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials who worked with a licensed private tracker and verified the lion killed the horse for prey.

“We live in this beautiful area and it’s easy to let our guard down,” said DFW Lt. Kyle Kroll who oversees wildlife management in Lassen, Plumas and central Butte counties. “We’re in the middle of amazing mountain lion territory. It’s not necessarily any more dangerous than anywhere else; it’s just good to be aware that this is their habitat,” Kroll noted.

Kroll said lions are highly secretive animals, able to disappear into very little cover, and where there are green belts and good habitat for deer, lions may be attracted to roam and hunt.

“We don’t have an overpopulation of mountain lions in our region, but we do have a healthy population,” Kroll said, explaining that lion attacks upon dogs are fairly rare and horse kills are “very, very rare.”

He added, “We know a lion is working this area. It’s hard to say how long a mountain lion will remain in an area.”

Kroll advised that animals be brought indoors at night, if possible, over the next couple of weeks, and that pets not be allowed to roam free in the area at this time, especially during hours of darkness.

More than half of California is mountain lion habitat. Kroll suggested people visit DFW’s website to become familiar ahead of time with safety precautions in the event of wildlife encounters.

The mare was buried April 18 and while mountain lions typically hunt within a 10-square-mile area, roaming when a food source is no longer available, there are many deer in the area where the predation occurred.

The lion kittens are far too young to make it on their own and trapping all three animals for relocation is highly problematic, according to Kroll.

“Relocation is something that we do [carry out] at times. Our main goal is to prevent further conflict,” the lieutenant said, explaining that capturing, tranquilizing, immobilizing and tagging the lion and her offspring would be difficult.

“In urban areas, we have better success,” Kroll commented. “Rural areas make it (capture and relocation) more difficult. Lions hunt at night and can travel great distances.”

Additionally, relocation might put the animals into another mountain lion’s territory and male lions are known to kill kittens. Starving animals also present a higher risk in terms of coming into contact with humans.

DFW biologists and federal USDA trappers have consulted on the attack and anticipate that removal of the food source will result in the lion moving on from the immediate area.

The department is focusing on public education around the incident and is also reaching out to local agencies to explore posting signage in the Gansner Park and Spanish Creek area.

“Bear encounters may be next,” Kroll noted, too. “They’re waking up and they’re really hungry, so we could start to have human-bear conflicts. It’s good to always be aware of your surroundings.”