Malibu Creek plan might include cougar breeding program


In light of the recent mountain attacks and fatality on people in Orange County and livestock here in Malibu, residents are alarmed by a proposal to breed the species in the Santa Monica Mountains area.

By Andi Peterson/Special to Malibu Times

Some Malibu residents say they are worried about a specific provision within the Malibu Creek State Park Preliminary General Plan that mentions the implementation of a mountain lion breeding program. Amid the recent cougar attacks in Orange County that resulted in one death and one near-fatal injury, and the killings of goats in Malibu in December, residents Anne Hoffman and Doug O’Brien have independently voiced serious concerns that Malibu residents will be put in greater danger of mountain lion attacks.

The General Plan, which ends its 45-day public comment period on Jan. 16, is a statement regarding the long-term vision for the park, desired improvements and guidelines for protecting its unique natural and cultural resources. The part of the plan that has worried residents such as Hoffman and O’Brien is Goal NR-4, the “protection, restoration, and perpetuation of native wildlife populations significant to the park and the wider region.” Within the guidelines for Goal NR-4, the mountain lion is recognized as being a part of the Santa Monica Mountains habitat. The document later states that if “determined scientifically feasible and viable, breeding and reintroduction programs will be implemented for animals of sensitive or threatened species.” While the terms “mountain lion” and “breeding program” are never in the same sentence together, the species is currently being closely monitored via tracking collars.

“You can draw the conclusion [that they want to implement mountain lion breeding programs] by reading the documents and looking at their actions,” Hoffman said. “They are one of the park’s species of top concern.”

Specifics regarding proposed breeding plans for any type of species are not contained within the General Plan.

The documents also mention the preservation of habitat corridors, which are strips of land that connect wildlife habitats together. Hoffman’s issue with this provision is that many Malibu homes are located near or within specific lands that are considered to be corridors.

“Mountain lion attacks are on the rise and I don’t want someone in Malibu to die because of irresponsible policy that puts animals in front of people,” Hoffman said.

Since 1986, officials have tallied 19 cougar attacks in California. The most recent attack occurred on Jan. 8, when Mark Reynolds, 35, of Foothill Ranch was fixing his bike on a Santa Ana foothill trail. He was attacked and killed. His body was discovered in dense underbrush and was partially eaten. Game officials say they think that same cougar, which has since been shot dead, was the same one who nearly killed cyclist Anne Hjelle later that day.

In Malibu, developer Brian Sweeney was granted a permit to kill a male cougar, which had killed several of his goats on land he owns between Pepperdine University and Malibu Creek State Park in early December. He later called the hunt off after public outcry over the possibility of the last male cat in the Santa Monica Mountains being killed. Experts believe there may be between three to five mountain lions left in this area, but only one male. Two weeks ago, Michael Callahan, 17, who was skateboarding down Hume Road, told his family he saw a mountain lion. A neighbor in the area reported sighting the lion.

Malibu resident and former rancher O’Brien, who has written The Malibu Times a letter, expressed his concern that “the species are overstocked in our mountains and do not have an adequate food supply. If we don’t start asking hard questions now about protection programs, our children and hikers will be next.”

Hoffman, in an earlier interview with the Times, said she believes the lions should be relocated. Other residents disagree. Selma Horowitz, in a letter to the Times last week, wrote, “Simply because the Santa Monica Mountains area is not a designated wilderness area, does not give rise to grounds to destroy it, or relocate its inhabitants. This attitude suggests that only those natural environments specifically protected by law merit preservation, or those on which we make value judgments and resulting life or death pronouncements.”

Encroaching development and the limiting of wildlife corridors, through which cougars and other species of animals could travel to hunt in other areas, might be making it tougher for the lions to seek prey.

Many experts, such as UC Davis mountain lion researcher Lee Fitzhugh, say we are giving the animals more opportunities to learn that people can be prey as more humans live and recreate in cougar habitat, which is at its highest point in human history.

Doug Updike, a senior wildlife biologist for the California Department of Fish and Game, said he disagrees. While recognizing the severity of the most recent attack, he told the Los Angeles Times, “the chances of being struck by lightening are better than the chances of being attacked by a mountain lion.”

Spokespeople for California State Parks could not be reached for comment.

Anyone interested in reviewing the Malibu Creek State Park Preliminary General Report can locate it online at the Malibu Creek State Park Web site, Copies are also available at the Angeles District Headquarters in Calabasas. Any comment letters must be postmarked by Jan.16 in order to be included in the review.