No lion

Last week a game warden shot to death a mountain lion chased up a tree by a springer spaniel in the back yard of a home in Magalia. This comes just as Assemblyman Bill Maze, R Visalia, introduces a bill to allow mountain lion hunting, which was outlawed in the state in 1972. Eight or nine years ago state Sen. Tim Leslie, R Carnelian Bay, helped qualify for the ballot Prop. 197, which also would have legalized mountain lion hunting. Voters said no. This desire by some to shoot mountain lions to death comes around every 10 years or so. The cats’ populations are exploding, the argument goes, as human habitat pushes farther and farther into the wilderness, shrinking their territory. According a story in the Enterprise-Record, the warden who shot the lion in Magalia said the cat came into the back yard to eat the dog that ended up treeing the cat. So we either had a ’fraidy cat or a mighty mean spaniel. Why wasn’t the cat just tranquilized and moved back to the wilderness? The warden reportedly told the woman who lived at the house where the lion climbed the tree that tranquilizing and moving the cat wouldn’t be fair to the animal. Apparently killing it was.

This has happened before in the area; a lion wanders into a neighborhood, gets treed, and a crowd of curious neighbors gathers. The frightened cat stays in the tree. Sometimes the crowd is asked to disperse and the dogs are taken inside and the cat is granted a chance to flee back to the safety of the wilderness. Other times the cats are shot out of the tree. When Prop. 197 was gaining steam and endorsements, I remember, a local official of the Department of Fish & Game addressed some concerned members of the Sierra Club at the Chico branch of the Butte County Library. He recalled how he had to shoot one of the magnificent cats and that he’d never forget the unpleasant experience. As he told the enrapt Sierra Club members, his eyes welled up with tears and his voice cracked. That shooting was covered, like this most recent one, in the Enterprise-Record. I looked it up in the archives. There on the front page was a photo of the F&G officer, proudly posing with the dead cat in the back of his pickup. He was in the parking lot of a restaurant in Oroville, regaling the locals with details of his adventure.

What is it that makes us want to shoot big, majestic animals and then maybe mount their heads and skins on the walls or our rec rooms? I realize this is some sort of instinctual, primitive rite like cave painting, but I certainly didn’t get that gene handed down to me. And my old man was a gun nut. He had a subscription to American Rifleman, belonged to the NRA, spent years of his life shooting lead projectiles into paper targets (and, I’d heard, into a few people as well; he was a cop), but he never shot an animal. Never.

Tonight, Feb. 17, the Chico Community Coalition will once again present to the Chico Area Recreation and Park District its argument why the Community Park on East 20th Street should have its name extended to the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Park. The group would also like to see an arch erected at the park’s entrance with a plaque honoring the folks who helped build the park. A park named after MLK at this location—right there where Highway 99 runs next to it—would give it high visibility and prove that Chico is a pretty civil town.

This Friday comedians Liz Merry and Aaron Standish, the Stiller and Meara, the Sonny and Cher, the Heckle and Jeckle of our time, are playing the Chico’s Women’s Center (a great place to meet chicks, I always say). The show starts at 8 p.m., doors open at 7. I promised those kids I’d get them some high visibility in this week’s calendar section. “Just leave it to me,” I said with a wink of assurance. But that promise went sour when our calendar organizer screamed at me to get the hell out of his office and leave him the hell alone. “I don’t need any of your damned help doing this damn job,” he shouted. “If you want it so bad, stick it in your damn column with all the other crap you collect for publication.” And that’s what I’ve done.