Federal appeals court upholds California ban on killing mountain lions for trophies

By on November 21, 2017 with 22 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

Trophy hunting has been on the front page and the opinion page and on television in the past week, after news broke that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made regulatory moves to overturn restrictions on the import of African elephants and African lions. There was a jolt of additional news after President Trump signaled in two tweets that he didn’t like the decisions one bit. As I’ve said in the press, and on this blog, the president’s action is tremendously good news.

There’s also been some good news for America’s lions — mountain lions (also known as cougars) — in the state of California.

The U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit, in a unanimous decision, upheld the State of California’s ban on not only killing mountain lions for trophies, but also on importing mountain lions killed in other states. Voters approved Proposition 117 in 1990, to codify a long-standing moratorium on lion hunting that had first been imposed by then Gov. Ronald Reagan in 1972. Safari Club International (SCI) belatedly challenged Prop 117 in 2014, claiming that one part of the law violated interstate commerce and equal protection laws, after the California Fish and Game Commission ousted one of its own for going to Idaho and shooting a lion in order to import it to California, even though that practice was forbidden under Proposition 117.

The HSUS and the Fund for Animals submitted amicus curiae briefs both in the lower court and in the Ninth Circuit, arguing that all of the features of Prop 117, including the import ban, were constitutionally sound. The federal appeals court agreed.

The Ninth Circuit took particular issue with the way that SCI calculated the animal protection law’s supposed harm to the public. SCI alleged that, since a small percentage of its members would plan to engage in trophy hunting of mountain lions outside of California, this must mean that thousands of Californians would also be interested in doing so. But the court quickly shot down this claim, finding no reason to believe that this “small percentage of a specialty group” is representative of all hunters in California, let alone all Californians.

States that still allow trophy hunting of mountain lions frequently utilize cruel and unsporting hunting methods, such as trapping and hounding — practices that even many hunters oppose as antithetical to the principle of fair chase. And despite widespread public opposition to the inhumane and needless killing of majestic wildlife, these great cats are subject to extreme persecution; trophy hunters have killed 29,000 mountain lions in the United States in the last decade alone, and 78,000 in the last two decades.

Prop 117 is a model for other states to adopt. In fact, just a month ago The HSUS, along with a coalition of organizations now totaling over 80, launched a ballot initiative in Arizona to stop the cruel and unnecessary trophy hunting of mountain lions, as well as the trapping and killing of other native cats. As in other states, mountain lions in Arizona are frequently killed with the aid of high-tech telemetry equipment and packs of dogs, sometimes pitting the animals in violent combat, in order to shoot the lion at close range.

The affirmation of California’s mountain lion law builds on the momentum for animal protection and specifically for the movement against trophy hunting. With the president’s declaration that trophy hunting of elephants and other animals is a “horror show,” with provincial leaders in British Columbia pledging to bar the trophy hunting of grizzly bears, with New Jersey’s incoming governor saying he’ll place a moratorium on the black bear hunt there, and with the Arizona lion protection ballot measure on the horizon, we are seeing the makings of progress on many fronts and the long overdue recognition that killing animals just for their heads is an abomination worthy of our strongest disapproval and serious-minded legal reform.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

Subscribe to the Blog

Enter your email address below to receive updates each time we publish new content.


Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

  1. Brian says:

    Why don’t we shoot the hunters and let the mountain lions live! That would be a good place to start.

  2. frank redmond says:

    love of animals nothing more,

  3. Carmen says:

    Humans should treat all animals worldwide with love and respect them since in several ways we need them to survive in this world.

  4. Stella Sutkiewicz says:

    SOME GOOD NEWS!!! Hang onto it! We all need these victories to remind us that others can happen. BUT…. YOU MUST fight Trump. WHY…. because he is not only changing things via executive order, he is also doing his GOD DAMNDEST to change the Judiciary away from people who will make decisions like this.

  5. S. Schroeder says:

    Thank you, Wayne, for your continued fight. You are amazing and I hope your voice keeps ringing out loudly among the rising din of the rest of the country that finds trophy hunting vile, barbaric and unethical. Mountain lions desperately need our protection, especially in Western states like Arizona, Nevada, Montana and Idaho, where they are gunned down ruthlessly.
    This news is heartening, and I am proud of my homestate, California for standing up to SCI and it’s bullying thug ways.
    Time to END trophy hunting. Count me in for the long haul on this fight.

  6. Denise Yravillion says:

    STOP the madness!!!

  7. Shelley Odorico says:

    All killings need to stop!!

  8. Patricia Shackelford says:


  9. Raymond Turlington says:

    No one with any empathy or a thinking mind would find murdering a living being anything but evil . They couldn’t do it , talk about it . Why is it the center of discussion? It’s unthinkable. It’s looking like the presidents want shock value so they can be remembered for something shocking . What kind of a leader stands for killing and murder ? What kind of a leader kills and champions torture and murder of baby animals and their mothers ?
    He is void of human feelings . What do we call a person who has no capacity to feel?
    America we are in deep trouble . We have no leaders . We are being lead by pure evil. Btw I’m not a democrat .

  10. Mellors says:

    Killing *anything* as a form of recreation or entertainment is an abomination.

  11. Duncan says:

    None of this is based on facts or science. The population of Lions is exploding in Ca and were seeing dwindling numbers of ungulates because of it. Predators need to be kept in check. And hunting them is a good way of making money for conservation and protecting other species.

    • Kelly says:

      Duncan, you’ve just exposed what is wrong when hunters are in charge of wildlife “management.” Hunters need to stand down from management positions (we all know why you’re concerned about ungulates – don’t kid yourself) and allow real, transparent, accountable science to understand population numbers. That means wildlife needs to be considered as something other than a resource, which the only way hunters know how to think.

  12. Chris winter says:

    The premise to pass prop 117 was not a permanent ban on the take of cougars but a moratorium as the populations were decreasing from over hunting and poor habitat. Those conditions have now changed. So much so that depredations permits to remove the over population of cougar are now at an all time high. Cougar hunting remains. The ninth court is wrong and will be overturned. The rights of the people to lawfully participate in other states legal hunts is the norm for all other legal game. Cougar no different. As too methods the articles author is in an ignorant position and anti hunting by any means. That is emotion not science. Let science manage wildlife, not opinions.

  13. James H. Mundy IV says:

    There is never a good reason to kill an animal for fun or personal gratification! The 12+ western states sport/shooter/trophy “harvesting”, especially with hounds…what the government and hunters call conservation to support a very small human sub-culture lifestyle, is all a pseudo-term for trophy hunting. A cruel and inhumane parallel to “canned hunting” that began in Africa in the early 90’s. I do not support or buy it. But like California who outlawed trophy hunting of the Cougar in the mid 90’s and seems quite successful and a evolving model for other states OUTSTANDING. However, CA is still determining to build wildlife overpasses and underpasses across freeways as our human population continues expanding into their habitat, urban wanderers (some munis kill, some sedate & relocate which is a positive) and they have a depredation issue and policy which kills 100+ each year but compensates (nature will eventually settle into self-regulation) and ranchers will figure a way to harmonize with the predators…..it is more about PRESERVATION which balances with emphasis on the Big Cat, Bobcats and other wildlife. Conservation definition and use has been corrupted by hunters and government with emphasis on human needs, and at this point in history is unsustainable! Especially when 86% of the USA’s population does not approve of trophy hunting and over 90% now say that it’s in humans best interests to protect wildlife and wild places???? See Panthera’s worldwide research and Teton Cougar research, Mountain Lion Foundation, Cougar Fund, Cougar Net, Florida’s approach for saving the Panther, and the American Society of Mammologists at Valdosa State U., GA for reforming federal wildelife control, Bradley Bergstrom. Keep up the good work Kitty Block!!!

  14. James H. Mundy IV says:

    I have no problem with guns or hunting for subsistence………especially living in North Idaho.

  15. James H. Mundy IV says:

    To add; the American Society of Mammologists attitudes toward pedator/control….shifting the paradigm from control to coexistence….an excellent reform of federal/state wildlife control. It would involve flexibility and education of all involved. And strict anti-poaching enforcement and prohibiting international trade of animals & parts(Cougars, Jaguars, Ocelots and Bobcats) and end of trapping. All modern cat species, big and small, are now in grave decline, losing ground to humans daily. Once regarded as an ecological and human menace, now essential for balancing the environment. I say good luck kids.

  16. Howard Jaquith says:

    In Centural California from hwy 99 east 23 miles along a slough and river system I observed a growing black tail deer herd these deer had found a safe havan from mountain lions by 2010 they numbers about 200. When I first saw mountain lion tracks I was more concerned for the cattle in the area. It is now 2018 and three lions one with cubs have killed or pushed out of the area most of the deer. Where I would see 20 I seen none. A female will take one deer ever three days if she has a cub if she has twins she will kill a deer every day. The lions are now taking cattle as there is no deer population left. What would have been a trophy hunt will now be illeagal kill and burial. for three or four lions. The dogs would have treed one lion ad chased the rest into the foothills.

Share a Comment

The HSUS encourages open discussion, and we invite you to share your opinion on our issues. By participating on this page, you are agreeing to our commenting policy.
Please enter your name and email address below before commenting. Your email address will not be published.