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A response to Mountain Lions, Myths, and Media.

Wendy Keefover-Ring calls The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature (The Beast in the Garden) "a well-intentioned attempt to warn us Westerners about the potential dangers of recreating or living in mountain lion country." (A1) This simplistic description reveals a fundamental misreading of the book, like calling Moby Dick a treatise on the dangers posed by white whales. Although The Beast in the Garden tells the true story of a fatal mountain lion attack, the book's message is not that cougars are inherently dangerous; rather, it is that humans are dangerous when they do not appreciate their impact on the natural world. The book's theme is the artificiality of the modern American landscape. Its moral is that people and natural ecosystems require thoughtful management along the urban-wild land interface.

Therefore, from the first sentence of her "critical reevaluation," Keefover-Ring misinterprets and misrepresents my book. Her essay does not improve by the second sentence. In fact, the very "sloppy methodology, unsatisfying leaps in logic, [and] historical inventions" she claims to find in the book are rife in her critique. (A2)

Keefover-Ring's litany of complaints can be divided into three broad categories: accusations about the book's style, substance, and impact. I shall address each category in turn.

First, Keefover-Ring critiques the book's style. She writes that The Beast in the Garden "disguises mountain lions as human beings" by instilling animals with human-like thought and emotion. (A3) As an example, she cites my description of Scott Lancaster's body, discovered haft-eaten behind his Colorado high school in January 1991. I do write that Lancaster's hollowed out body appeared as if it were the work of a deranged murderer, for this was the initial reaction of the search team that discovered the grisly scene. Never before in Colorado had a cougar been known to prey on a human being, and the searchers who found Lancaster's body had no inkling that a mountain lion had been the killer. My words describe what the searchers thought when they came upon the corpse. I did not write, and I do not believe, that the cougar killed Lancaster with "murderous intent," as Keefover-Ring suggests. Any careful reader should find this obvious from the context.

Even more outrageous is Keefover-Ring's statement that, "[a]ccording to Baron, mountain lions use ritualized murder no different than the Aztecs...." (A4) I do describe Lancaster's death as a kind of modern-day sacrifice, but let us be clear: this is a metaphor, and in this metaphor, who sacrificed Lancaster? It was not the cougar. As I write, Lancaster was killed "by a community embracing a myth: the idea that wilderness, true wilderness, could exist in modern America." (A5) In other words, he was killed by human beings who failed to understand how their behavior affected the surrounding environment, cougars included. Keefover-Ring may dislike the metaphor, and she may dispute my explanation for what caused a mountain lion to kill Lancaster, but for her to write that I claim cougars engage in ritualized murder is a ridiculous falsehood.

Less ridiculous, but equally false, are Keefover-Ring's attacks on my book's substance. The Beast in the Garden tells a true story, and I can back up every quotation and claim with evidence gleaned from a vast accumulation of newspaper clippings, police reports, trial transcripts, meeting minutes, memos, letters, photographs, and videotapes that document my book's central story; from the more than 200 hours of tape-recorded interviews I conducted with people involved in that story; from the 350 books and articles I read for background; and from the dozens of experts I consulted about cougar biology, animal behavior, western history, ecology, forensics, and other relevant topics. To guide readers to the sources I consulted, I included in my book an extensive bibliography and some 400 endnotes, and I am always glad to answer queries from researchers seeking access to my files. Had Keefover-Ring bothered to ask me for evidence of the "unsupportable historic claims" she contends exist in The Beast in the Garden, (A6) I would have happily shown her the evidence directly. As it is, I will have to do so in the context of this rebuttal.

Here is one of the claims Keefover-Ring calls "unsupportable": mountain lions were once lured to traps with catnip oil. (A7) Evidence of this fact is abundant. Author J. Frank Dobie wrote of the great cougar hunter Ben Lilly: "As a lure he favored catnip and devised a special way of preparing and placing it near a trap." (A8) Texas cougar trapper Bess Kennedy also used catnip and commented that "mountain lions find it quite as irresistible as does any domestic tabby." (A9) And Stanley Young, the very biologist whose 1940 publication Keefover-Ring quotes (and apparently misinterprets), wrote in 1946: "The use of catnip oil to lure both pumas and bobcats into traps, as well as to cause them to take self-photographs in their undisturbed habitats has been remarkably effective." (A10)

Here is another "unsupportable" claim according to Keefover-Ring: "ancient Indians may have come closer to exterminating [mountain lions] than twentieth-century lion hunters ever did." (A11) Not only can I support this claim, but I do support it, in my book, in the very paragraph following that sentence. The evidence comes from a DNA study that has determined, based on patterns of genetic diversity in modern cougars, that pumas likely went extinct in North America approximately 12,000 years ago, (A12) and the cause of that extinction may well have been hunting by early Indians. Did Keefover-Ring skip that paragraph?

Keefover-Ring similarly scoffs at the idea that a lion from the Boulder area could have killed Scott Lancaster in Idaho Springs; she contends that the distance between the communities is too great. (A13) But she misses a critical point: the lion that killed Lancaster was a young adult male, estimated to be two and a half years old. As I explain in my book, "[a]t around two years of age, male cougars (and some females) depart their childhood homes to establish adult territories in which to live and breed." (A14) Studies show that these young lions travel a mean distance of approximately fifty miles. (A15) Therefore, Lancaster's killer almost certainly was not born in Idaho Springs but had walked some distance to get there. While it is impossible to prove that the lion came from Boulder--a fact I acknowledge in my book (A16)--I find that scenario likely, given the unusual behavior of the lion that killed Lancaster and the similarly unusual behavior of Boulder's lions in the months preceding the fatal attack.

Keefover-Ring also calls "unsupportable" my statement that early residents of the Boulder area participated in a frenzy of lion killing. (A17) Surely, she does not question that the United States engaged in a frenzy of lion killing. From colonial times to the mid-1900s, America waged a massive extermination campaign against cougars, which eradicated the species from almost the entire eastern two-thirds of the country. (A18) One scientist has calculated the cougar death toll in the United States and Canada, for just half of the twentieth century, at more than 66,000. (A19) Keefover-Ring's argument appears to be that I cannot document that Boulder residents participated in the extermination campaign, since all that remains of Boulder County's early bounty records is a single ledger that records just two lions killed between 1890 and 1892. (A20) But she is wrong that no other documentation exists; ample evidence of lion killing can be found in the pages of early Boulder-area newspapers. Here is a sampling:</p> <pre> "Mr. E. C. Holmes brought into our office night before last a young mountain lion, which was killed near Boulder...." (A21) "A big puma (mountain lion) was strychnined day before yesterday by Reuben Towner and G. R. Williamson, near their ranches two miles this side of Sugar Loaf [six miles west of Boulder]." (A22) "Mountain Lion shot ... by Mr. A. R. Myers, on the Magnolia mountain [four miles southwest of Boulder]." (A23)

"A mountain lioness, which has been doing much damage around Longmont [12 miles northeast of Boulder] to sheep and calves, has at last been killed." (A24) </pre> <p>I did not conduct an exhaustive study of nineteenth-century newspapers; my goal was not to tally every dead cougar, but to understand how Boulder's early residents viewed mountain lions and behaved toward them. Although I do not know--and I do not say--how many lions were killed in Boulder more than a century ago, clearly Boulder's early residents, like those of other Colorado communities of that era, poisoned and shot the animals with some regularity.

More significant than the number of lions killed in the Boulder area in the late nineteenth century is how few remained by the early twentieth century. A biological survey of Colorado published in 1911 reported, "Over much of the eastern slope [including Boulder County] mountain lions are very rare, where they were formerly common." (A25) As late as 1964, a guide to wildlife in Boulder reported that mountain lions were "[s]carce in our area, but more numerous in western Colorado." (A26) I found further evidence for the rarity of cougars in mid-twentieth century Boulder when I interviewed Brownlee Guyer, who served as the state game warden for Boulder County from 1938 to 1970. Guyer could recall just three lion sightings in his entire district during his three decades on the job. (A27) Today in Boulder County, it is not uncommon for wildlife officials to learn of three lion sightings in a week. There seems little question that Boulder's lion population fell dramatically in the late nineteenth century and recovered much later, particularly after the repeal of Colorado's cougar bounty in 1965.

Scientists and scholars working in other parts of the West have reached similar conclusions. Ken Logan, the biologist Keefover-Ring calls a "renowned lion researcher," (A28) writes: "Since 1965, regulations on killing pumas by all of the western United States (except for Texas) and provinces of Canada have enabled populations to recover from historical low levels." (A29) Another esteemed lion researcher, Maurice Hornocker, has called the mountain lion's comeback "a modern-day carnivore success story." (A30)

Evidence of this comeback stems from myriad sources, including hunter observations, track sightings, and lion road kill. Sierra magazine reports that, in California, "most available signs point to an increase in [lion] numbers..."; for example, incidents of lion predation on livestock "went from virtually zero in the early 1970s to over 300 in 1995," and "[m]eticulous records kept by employees of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power of everything drowned in the L.A. aqueduct list no lions until 1988, but a dozen in the five years after that." (A31) Indeed, some biologists believe that cougars may be as abundant today in the western United States as they were in the era of Lewis and Clark, (A32) a reasonable claim given that cougars are now spilling out of the West and onto the Great Plains, where they were absent for more than a century. (A33) While Keefover-Ring is correct to point out that counting cougars is a tricky business--no one can say with precision how many lions existed in the West in 1805, 1905, or even 2005--there is little question that lion populations region-wide are much healthier today than they were fifty or a hundred years ago.

Finally, let me address Keefover-Ring's third broad complaint about The Beast in the Garden--that it "has succeeded in unnecessarily frightening the public." (A34) I agree with her that shortly after my book was published, in November 2003, some news reports displayed a measure of cougar hysteria, but my book did not cause that hysteria; rather, it resulted from the horrific events of January 8, 2004--when a cougar killed and ate mountain biker Mark Reynolds and nearly killed another cyclist, Anne Hjelle, at a park near Los Angeles. (A35) Reynolds's death and Hjelle's rescue made national news for days, and such popular TV programs as Larry King lave, Paula Zahn Now, Good Morning America, and Inside Edition chronicled Hjelle's recovery for months thereafter. The actions of that one man-eating cougar in Orange County did far more to shape public opinion about mountain lions than any book could possibly do.

Undoubtedly my book has scared some readers, as any book describing a fatal animal attack would, but has it frightened readers excessively and unnecessarily? Many thoughtful, environmentally aware commentators do not think so. Audubon book reviewer Keith Kloor wrote, "[Baron] does a public service by presenting the harsh reality of what happens when wild creatures become habituated to humans." (A36) Ann Koros, a reviewer for the publication Animal People, echoed that sentiment, adding that the book "never exaggerates the risks associated with pumas." (A37) And, contrary to Keefover-Ring's claim that "[c]ontent to frighten readers with gore, Baron fails to tell us how to behave while living or recreating in lion country," reviewer Jodi Peterson had this to say in High County News. "Baron offers a common-sense prescription for making peace with these great beasts in our gardens: Keep the pets inside, stop feeding the deer, and learn to give our wild neighbors as much respect as our human neighbors." (A38)

So why are Keefover-Ring's perceptions of The Beast in the Garden so out of step with those of others? Why has she waged a campaign--not just in these pages, but elsewhere (A39)--to discredit my book? Only she knows the answer, but I will hazard a guess: she considers my book politically inconvenient. Keefover-Ring is a paid lobbyist for Sinapu, an organization whose stated aim is to restore native carnivores, including grizzly bears and wolves, to their former range in the Southern Rocky Mountains. (A40) She has worked to build grassroots support for predator protection and has tried to change public policy to reduce the hunting of cougars. (A41) She appears to believe that my book, by publicizing the remarkable resurgence of cougars in the West and by telling the true story of a cougar attack, will erode public support for her cause. That may or may not be true. Politics are not my concern.

I did not write The Beast in the Garden to propagandize, but to educate and provoke a much-needed public discussion. As carnivores return to areas from which they have been absent for a century or more, Americans face some difficult questions: What is the proper balance between the rights of wild animals to exist and the understandable desire of people to feel safe in their homes and neighborhoods? What limits should be placed on the behavior of wild animals in human habitat? what limits should be placed on the behavior of humans in wildlife habitat? How many lions--or wolves, or bears--are enough?

Keefover-Ring seems to believe that even asking such questions reveals an anti-predator bias, yet I contend that asking such questions is necessary if America is to move beyond politically polarized fights over large carnivores ("kill them all" vs. "protect them all") and toward a broad consensus over how, and where, people and these magnificent animals can coexist. As puma biologist David Maehr wrote in his review of The Beast in the Garden, "Restoring large carnivores is not as simple as just wanting them back. Baron reminds us of this in exquisite detail." (A42) Apparently, that's a message Wendy Keefover-Ring would rather the public not hear.

(A1) Wendy J. Keefover-Ring, Mountain Lions, Myths, and Media: A Critical Reevaluation of The Beast in the Garden, 35 ENVTL. L. 1083 (2005).

(A2) Id.

(A3) Id. at 1085.

(A4) Id.

(A5) DAVID BARON, THE BEAST IN THE GARDEN: A MODERN PARABLE OF MAN AND NATURE 8 (2003).

(A6) Keefover-Ring, supranote 1, at 1086.

(A7) Id at 1087.

(A8) J. FRANK DOBIE, THE BEN LILLY LEGEND 132 (1950).

(A9) BESS KENNEDY, THE LADY AND THE LIONS 164 (1942).

(A10) Stanley P. Young, History, Life, Habits, Economic Status, and Control, in THE PUMA: MYSTERIOUS AMERICAN CAT 1, 105-06 (American Wildlife Institute ed., 1946). See also STANLEY P. YOUNG, HINTS ON MOUNTAIN-LION TRAPPING 4-6 (1933) (providing detailed instructions on using catnip oil as a lure).

(A11) BARON, supranote 5, at 161.

(A12) M. Culver et al., Genomic Ancestry of the American Puma (Puma Concolor), 91 J. OF HEREDITY 183, 186-97 (2000).

(A13) Keefover-Ring, supra note 1, at 1084-85.

(A14) BARON, supra note 5, at 187.

(A15) An analysis of several published studies found a mean dispersal distance of 85 km. (53 mi.) for male cougars and 31 km. (19 mi.) for females. See, e.g., Allen E. Anderson et al., The Puma on Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado, 40 Co. Dry. WILDLIFE, TECHNICAL BULL. 1, 66 (1992).

(A16) BARON, supranote 5, at 221.

(A17) Keefover-Ring, supranote 1, at 1086-87.

(A18) BARON, supra note 5, at 28-32 (recounting this campaign, for which there is overwhelming historical documentation).

(A19) Allen E. Anderson, A Critical Review of Literature on Puma (Felis Concolor), 54 COLO. DIV. WILDLIFE, TECHNICAL BULL. 1, 55 (1983).

(A20) Although most of Boulder County's original bounty records have gone missing over the years, the Colorado State Archives retains affidavits signed by people who received bounties statewide in the nineteenth century. Colorado State Archives in Denver, boxes 64931-34. I did not conduct a comprehensive study of these records, as it was unnecessary for my purposes, but a researcher interested in the history of Colorado's cougars could use those affidavits to determine the precise number of lions killed under the early bounty system.

(A21) DAILY ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, Nov. 19, 1869 (copy on file with author).

(A22) BOULDER COUNTY NEWS, Jul. 17, 1874 (copy on file with author).

(A23) BOULDER COUNTY NEWS, Nov. 19, 1875 (copy on file with author).

(A24) ROCKY MOUNTAIN NEWS, Feb. 9, 1885 (copy on file with author).

(A25) Merritt Cary, A Biological Survey of Colorado, 33 N. AM. FAUNA 1, 165 (1911).

(A26) CHAMBER OF COMMERCE OF BOULDER, A GUIDE TO THE MOUNTAIN WILD LIFE OF NORTHERN COLORADO 13 (5th prtg. n.d.).

(A27) Interview with Brownlee Guyer, Retired Wildlife Conservation Officer, Co. Div. Wildlife, in Boulder, Colo. (May 21, 2001).

(A28) Keefover-Ring, supra note 1, at 1088.

(A29) KENNETH A. LOGAN & LINDA L. SWEANOR, DESERT PUMA: EVOLUTIONARY ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION OF AN ENDURING CARNIVORE 15 (2001).

(A30) Mauriee G. Hornocker, A Synopsis of the Symposium and Challenges for the Future, Co. DIV. WILDLIFE: MOUNTAIN LION-HUMAN INTERACTION SYMPOSIUM AND WORKSHOP 54 (Clait E. Braun ed., 1993).

(A31) Paul Ranoer, The Don and the Lamb, SIERRA, Mar.--Apr. 2001, at 32, 36.

(A32) See, e.g., Telephone interview with Steve Pozzanghera, Deputy Assistant Director, Wash. Dept. Fish and Wildlife, in Olympia, Wash. (Jan. 7, 1999) (making a specific comparison to the era of Lewis and Clark). Other biologists made similar statements to me, though with different wording.

(A33) Blaine Harden, Mountain Lions Move East, Breeding Fear on the Prairie, WASH. POST, Dec. 17, 2004, at Al. A non-profit scientific organization, the Cougar Network, is tracking the eastward spread of cougars. The Cougar Network, Homepage, www.easterncougarnet.org (last visited Nov. 20, 2005).

(A34) Wendy Keefover-Ring, Book Overstates Lion Dangers, BOULDER DAILY CAMERA, Feb. 5, 2005, at C05.

(A35) Lisa M. Krieger, Puma-People Encounters Rise: Santa Clara County Residents Urged to be Cautious, SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, Jan. 21, 2004, at A15.

(A36) Keith Kloor, When Nature Bites Back, AUDUBON, Jan.-Mar. 2004, at 96, 98.

(A37) Ann T. Koros, Book Review, ANIMAL PEOPLE ONLINE (Mar. 2004), http://www.animalpeoplenews.org/04/3/books3.04.html (last visited Nov. 20, 2005).

(A38) Jodi Peterson, Big Cats on the Block, 36 HIGH COUNTRY NEWS 22, 22 (Feb. 16, 2004) (book review), available at http://www.hcn.org/servlets/hcn.BulletinBoard?issue_id=268.

(A39) See Keefover-Ring, supra note 34 at C05 (criticizing The Beast in the Garden for unnecessarily frightening people); Wendy Keefover-Ring, Abstract, Beast in the Garden: A Parable in Support of Anachronistic Thinking Regarding a Predatory Animal, in PROCEEDINGS OF THE EIGHTH MOUNTAIN LION WORKSHOP 214 (Richard A. Beausoleil & Donald A. Martorello eds., 2005) (accusing Baron of returning to outdated anachronistic thinking that predators are evil and ravenous).

(A40) Sinapu, Native Carnivores in the Southern Rockies, http://www.sinapu.org (last visited Nov. 20, 2005).

(A41) See Tom Ragan, Losing Lions Worries Activists: Group Wants to Cut Back on Hunting, THE GAZETTE (Co. Springs, Co.), Oct. 28, 2002, at 3 (quoting Keefover-Ring on her attempts to convince the Colorado Wildlife Commission to reduce the state's lion-hunting quota: "We're just hoping that if we can put enough citizen pressure on the wildlife commission, then maybe we can sway the vote.").

(A42) David S. Maehr, A Plague of Puma?, 18 CONSERVATION BIOLOGY 1166, 1168 (2004) (book review).
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Title Annotation:response to article by Wendy J. Keefover-Ring in this issue, p. 1083
Author:Baron, David
Publication:Environmental Law
Date:Sep 22, 2005
Words:3445
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