Ranch suspends hunting after mountain lion deaths

Tejon Ranch, a huge spread of private land in the mountains north of Los Angeles, has announced it will suspend its pricey hunting operations after a state investigation found mountain lions were illegally killed there.

The historic 422-acre ranch said on its website that hunting operations, in which trophy hunters pay more than $10,000 to shoot elk, will be suspended starting Jan. 30, and no new membership applications will be accepted. The shutdown was likely to last a few months, the website said.

Tejon Ranch Co. chief executive Robert Stine said the suspension came after ranch officials learned the outcome of an investigation conducted for much of last year by the California Department of Fish and Game.

“I was appalled and outraged when I learned the results of the investigation,” Stine said in a statement released Friday. “Tejon Ranch did not then, and certainly does not now, condone such activity, and we sincerely regret that such activity took place on our ranch. Accordingly, we are taking every step necessary to ensure it won’t happen again.”

It is not clear how many mountain lions were killed, and government officials have not commented on the findings.

Fish and Game officials gave the results of their investigation to Kern County prosecutors, who have not said whether they plan to pursue charges.

The probe was brought on by a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in May by former ranch hunting guide Bron Sanders, who worked for the ranch for five years but said he was fired in December 2010 for complaining about the killings.

Tejon Ranch managers gave hunting guides perks for shooting mountain lions and even asked customers to shoot them, Sanders’ claim said. Guides who killed mountain lions were instructed to say that they feared for their lives, the lawsuit said.

Barry Zoeller, the ranch’s vice president of corporate communications and marketing, told the Bakersfield Californian at the time that the ranch had conducted an internal investigation and found that Sanders’ allegations were “ridiculous and untrue.”

California voters gave mountain lions protected status in 1991. Killing them without a state-issued permit is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine and up to six months in jail.

Lebec-based Tejon is a publicly traded agribusiness and real estate development company. Visitors pay top dollar to hunt elk, antelope, deer, wild turkeys, bears and other game on its 270,000-acre property.

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/n/a/2012/01/21/state/n100206S83.DTL#ixzz1kE58thjC

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