By Jennifer Grimes

Triplicate staff writer

Mountain lion sightings are reported every week in Del Norte County. Thats making some fear the cats are becoming less leery of people and therefore more dangerous.

They are definitely on the comeback and have been spotted a lot coming down into the Crescent City flats, said Frank Galea, a local wildlife biologist with a consulting business.

Wednesday night, a lion was thought to be prowling the Wonderstump Road area, near where Galea lives.

Residents there were awakened by the sound of an animal screaming. A man went out to check and said he saw the cat run into the brush, then reported the incident to Fish and Game Warden Don Kelly.

Though no evidence of a kill or of a cat was found, Galea said the incident is just the latest evidence of an encroaching cat population.

It does seem like were getting a lot more calls in the past few years, said Fish and Game Lt. Warden Nick Albert in Eureka.

Whether the increase means residents are in more danger, however is arguable, according to local warden Kelly.

Theres never been a documented case of a mountain lion or bear attacking a person on the North Coast, Kelly said.

For the most part they want nothing to do with people, he added.

But Galea argues the apparent prevalence of the wildcats in peopled areas is a major concern.

Especially when it comes to children. Cats, even house cats, react to quick movements. If kids are running around in the backyard, a cat could pounce and that would be the end of it, he said.

Before 1972, sport hunting of cougars was allowed. Galea said the use of dogs and guns kept cougars afraid of residential areas.

Since then, hunting has not been allowed and more legal restrictions passed on how and when a lion can be killed.

As a result, Galea said, the lions are not afraid to search for food in local neighborhoods.

Fish and Game officials say the answer is simply to educate people to co-exist peacefully with the cats.

People just have to be aware they are out there and to keep an eye on small children, said Albert.

He added that if a lion is seen more than once in a peopled area, Fish and Game brings in a specially trained hunter to take the cat out.

Also, if a wildcat is seen attacking a domestic animal or human, it is legal to shoot it on the spot.

But, Warden Kelly said, if you encounter a lion stand your ground, raise your arms to appear bigger and the cat will simply go away.

Galea said its not as clear-cut as that and is pushing Fish and Game to develop a stronger handed policy to discourage the cats from coming into residential areas.

I think anytime a cougar is seen in a residential area, it should be chased we should put dogs on it, he said.

As a member of the Del Norte County Fish and Game Commission, Galea said he will raise the issue at the commissions Aug. 2 meeting.

Id like to change the policy. Maybe in the meantime we can hang a map at the Lake Earl Wildlife area and put a pin in each place theres been a sighting. At least that way people will know if a lions been near their home, he said.