Mountain lions offer less threat than commute


Mar 11, 2001
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Mountain lions offer less threat than commute

Tom Stienstra    Sunday, August 5, 2001

"Dear Tom,

"I've lived on the northern Peninsula for 26 years, most recently in Pacifica, and have always wondered about the presence of cougars in the area. I researched the matter and could find no hard evidence of sightings anywhere close by. At that point I decided that they probably did not live anywhere north of Big Basin save for a chance visit beyond. Then, about 3 or 4 months ago, all sorts of clues to the contrary seemed to pop up all over the place.

"Once I met an elderly lady who was volunteering at the nature center in Big Basin. She said she had been hiking the trails there almost all her life. I asked if she had ever seen a cougar. She smiled a little and said she hadn't.

Then she kind of got this dreamy look in her eyes and told me, 'I'd give anything to see one.' At the time I thought she was crazy, but now I know what she means."

-- Sean Woods, Pacifica

You can spend most of your life hiking in the Bay Area foothills, always on the lookout for a mountain lion, and never see one.

Yet they are out there, just about everywhere. Most habitat that is wild enough to support deer will support mountain lions, which typically eat about one deer per week. That means mountain lions live in the wildlands of the Peninsula, extending all the way north to Sweeney Ridge near San Bruno, the east flank of Montara Mountain and the adjoining Crystal Springs Watershed. They live in the wildlands of the Marin watershed and north into the Point Reyes National Seashore. They roam throughout much of the East Bay foothills, where there are 60 parks and another 50,000 acres of watershed lands.

Yet unless you get lucky, you will never see one.

This subject came up when I received about 100 e-mails after a short notes column, where some mountain lions were described as having developed a penchant this summer for eating house cats let out for the night.

A lot of people seemed to think there was something more to the story, such as a hidden agenda to promote hunting by writing a scare story about lions. The truth is any time wildlife are discovered doing the strangest things, it makes for a story I want to write. In addition, a lot of people were writing to ask about their personal safety in regional parks.

When it comes to danger, a daily commute in the Bay Area is a lot more risky than meeting up with a mountain lion at a park. The facts show the most dangerous part of a hiking trip by far is the drive to the trailhead.

Even if you are lucky enough to see one.

My three best hiking pals, all with 5,000 to 10,000 trail miles in their boots, have seen only two mountain lions between them, and these two were both fleeting chance meetings. In more than 20,000 miles on the trail, I've seen five. In three of those cases, I tried to track the lions, but after 100 yards it was as if they had vanished.

The first sighting was at Boronda Lake at Foothills Park in Palo Alto. At dusk, just as the bass were starting a great surface bite, a mountain lion simply walked out of the bushes and was sauntering along a dirt service road next to the lake. At first I thought it was a big dog. Just as I identified it, the lion disappeared back into the woods. For days I replayed the incident in my mind.

The next three encounters were nearly identical. One was in Moss Beach (on the west side of Highway 1, near the Moss Beach Distillery, believe it or not).

Another was on the south flank of Montara Mountain on the ridge bordering the Crystal Springs Watershed. The other was at Point Reyes National Seashore at Pierce Ranch out on the Tomales Point Trail.

In each case, a lion sat perched on its haunches, staring me down on the trail at about 40 yards for nearly a minute. I remember how my heart pounded at such a rare occurrence. Then, suddenly, as if scripted, the lion dropped to all fours and slinked off into the adjacent high grass and chaparral. I tried to track these animals, but it was quickly impossible. There were no signs at all, nothing to track.

The other incident was last winter, when on a trip into the mountains, a mountain lion ran across the road in front of me at a full sprint, likely chasing a deer.

Most meetings with lions are just like this, brief but exciting.

But what about the danger factor? That always seems to come up in e-mails and at seminars.

The facts? In the Bay Area, according to the DFG, there has been one mountain lion attack in the last 100 years, in Gilroy in 1911, and in this one case, the lion was rabid. Statewide, the DFG has documented only 12 mountain lion attacks since 1890 and the most recent in Northern California was seven years ago in the Sierra foothills near Auburn.

Yet the public has often been rendered nervous and vulnerable over mountain lions, I believe, because of two government actions. At many parks, there are now often warning signs about mountain lions at trailheads, what appears to be a bright red light for hikers, repeated over and over. So it sticks in your mind. In addition, the DFG printed a special widely-circulated pamphlet on mountain lions, and while well meaning, it sends the same signal: Trouble ahead!

If the state was worried about safety, my suggestion is to take down the mountain lion warnings at trailheads and instead post new signs at freeway off ramps. "Warning! Idiots ahead! There's been 25 accidents in the next mile so far this year!" Or how about: "Warning! Taking this off ramp will feed you to a neighborhood loaded with criminals!"

Those are the true dangers in the Bay Area, driving and crime. Mountain lions? Not even on the radar scope. Enjoy your hikes.

Eric Mayer

Well-known member
Apr 2, 2001
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That is funny.  It serves the stupid people right who think their senses of observation are on a higher level than a mountain lion in it's habitat.

They are there, you people just ain't seeing them.



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May 28, 2001
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Although I live in Cali too, it's like we are in different worlds.  I'm around big cats on a
regular basis, and see several each year.  I find fresh cat kills a time or two each month.
I've heard the stories about how many deer a cat kills each week, and they are way off.  A
day or two after a cat kills a deer, the meat is ripe, and smells that way too.  This rings the
dinner bell for bears and vultures.  Both find food with their noses.  Then the cat has to go
and kill again to eat.
The second thing I hear that isn't totally true is that the cats kill only the very young, or
the old and weak, this is only partly true.
When the bucks are in rut, the biggest bucks are king of the mountain, and run off all
challengers.  They will, all too often, stop and try to fight a cat, while in this altered state,
when they should be running for their lives.  The elevated level of testosterone makes
them think they are lion proof.  Wrong, and they lose, and we lose the biggest and best
breeding stock.
There are many interesting facts that the DFG does not tell the public about mountain
lions.  These beautiful and deadly animals are a political issue in this state, and we all
know how honest and truthful politicians are.
If you want to know about these land sharks, ask the people who have lost calves, colts
and sheep to them.
Their entire existence is to breed, and kill to eat.  They are very good at these things.

jerry d

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Mar 17, 2001
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Who in their right mind would try to track a mountain lion without some sort of protection. He probably only had a walking stick, if that.

That's ok, let him have a confrontation with one and then see what he writes in his column.

Never ceases to amaze.......


Well-known member
Jun 19, 2001
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My thoughts exactly (Eric and Jerry).  "Try to track the cat into the high grass and chapparal"  Not too bright if you ask me.  Maybe he had a box of Friskies for the nice little kitty.  After all they don't eat meat.  right?


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Jun 23, 2001
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I live in Wy and have probably seen 7 in my whole life( a whopping 16 years LOL) and this fall I plan to buy a mountain lion permit, I think it would be awsome to have one.

db 183

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Jun 20, 2001
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I have never seen one and never want too. I have seen bobcats but never a cougar. I have talked to ranchers in the Knoxville area, who have lost cattle to them and have seen mauled deer carcasses. I think there should be some management in place. I believe everything has a right to live but as a conservationist, and a human, we have the ability to manage these animals that benefits the animals, the hunters and the antis.
I whole heartedly disagree with the ban on managing these animals.

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