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Memo to a Mountain Lion

Mountain lions are hunted for trophies in Wyoming, and are indiscriminately caught in snares and legholds set for predators in the state.
Human hostility towards these magnificent cats continues.

In 1984, Wolfgang Lederer printed a color illustration of a mountain lion followed by Wallace Stegner’s text “Memo to a Mountain Lion”.  Stegner’s message still rings true today.

MEMO to the Mountain Lion

Once, in every corner of this continent, your passing could prickle the stillness and bring every living thing to the alert. But even then you were more felt than seen. You were an imminence, a presence, a crying in the night, pug tracks in the dust of a trail. Solitary and shy, you lived beyond, always beyond. Your comings and goings defined the boundaries of the unpeopled. If seen at all, you were only a tawny glimpse fleeting toward disappearance among the trees or along the ridges and ledges of your wilderness.

But hunters, with their dogs and guns, knew how to find you. Folklore made you dangerous, your occasional killing of a calf put a price on your head. Never mind that you preferred deer, that your killings of livestock were trivial by comparison with those by our own dogs. You were wild, and thus an enemy; you were rare, and elusive, and elegant, and thus a trophy to be prized. Under many names, as panther, catamount, puma, cougar, mountain lion, you were hunted to death through all the East and Midwest. The last catamount in Vermont was shot more than a hundred years ago. You persist in the Everglades only because a National Park official quietly released a pair of you to restore the life balance of that fecund swamp.

In the mountain and plateau West a remnant population of you persists, in the pockets of wild country off the edges of settlement and too rough for off-road vehicles. If you kill a calf or a sheep, the permit hunters still exact more than an eye for an eye vengeance. But in California, at least, a moratorium on ordinary hunting has let your numbers stabilize. The Fish and Game people say there are 2400 of you in California. A better guess is 1000. But a remnant. There is a chance you may survive.

You had better. If we lift the moratorium that has helped to save you, we are insane. Visiting Africa, twentieth-century Americans are struck by how poor we have become, how poor we have made ourselves, how much pleasure and instruction we have deprived ourselves of, by our furious destruction of other species.

Controls we may need, what is called game-management we may need, for we have engrossed the earth and must now play God to other species. But deliberate war on any species, especially species of such evolved beauty and precise function, diminishes, endangers, and brutalizes us. If we cannot live in harmony with other forms of life, if we cannot control our hostility toward the earth and its creatures, how shall we ever learn to control our hostility toward each other??

WALLACE STEGNER
LOS ALTOS HILLS, CALIFORNIA
1984

Shared with us by Linda Schutt.  Thank you!

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