My breath always quickens when, from my deck, or supermarket, or nail salon, I glimpse mountain trails I’ve scaled in the wilderness backdrop of my Southern California town. From our urban setting, you can – within minutes – walk into backcountry and see no one else within the sweep of the eye. That’s a hugely refreshing boon to the health of the community and the larger ecology.
We covet and cultivate wild spaces – but how wild?
When news hit in late April of the first documented sighting in 30 years of a mountain lion wandering canyons and hills here in Laguna Beach, it triggered a gulp. I’ve made my peace with wandering near coyotes, rattlesnakes, and bobcats. But 100-plus pound apex predators? Not so much. And this morning – May 9 – police alerts said that at 1:30 a.m. that same cat was wandering Laguna Beach boutiques on Pacific Coast Highway.
In the past two months, the region has been having a mountain lion moment. Three were killed crossing highways – one near a planned wildlife crossing. The cat sighted today actually was e-collared and released in March after it ran into an office in an Irvine, California, shopping plaza. (Authorities stress it shows “appropriate fear of humans.”) Another was seen wandering the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Winston Vickers, who collared the Irvine and Laguna Beach intruder and co-directs the California Mountain Lion Project, offers some sensibility on how to think about this.
He compares mountain lion-human interaction to the “very low likelihood” of shark attacks. And there’s no uptick in negative interactions or attacks. What’s new is our awareness of the cats, he says.
“The positive message,” he adds, “is that, wow, we’re in this big urban matrix of Southern California, and we’re managing to live with this large predator threat. Mostly the predator is happy and we’re happy.”