An early spring is bringing one of the Sierra Nevada’s large predators up to altitude a little sooner than normal.
Mountain lions follow mule deer herds, mule deer herds follow sprouting vegetation and sprouting vegetation follows receding snow, so it makes sense for the big cats are already making their way up to higher elevations, said Nevada Department of Wildlife spokesman Chris Healy.
The agency received a report of a mountain lion near Kingsbury Grade Monday around dusk, according to Healy.
“It’s not an unusual thing for this time of year, especially in a lighter winter,” Healy said. “In a winter like this, the mule deer are kind of transitioning from their winter range back into summer range which means that they are probably entering the basin.”
Rena Escobedo, a fish and wildlife biologist with the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, agreed. She said the felines are extremely elusive and generally apt to avoid humans. Often times the cats spotted by people are juveniles looking to establish their own territory, according to the biologist.
To actually see one is “very rare,” Escobedo said.
“We have biologists that spend their life in the field and never see a mountain lion in the wild,” Healy said.
Attacks on humans are even farther between.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has recorded 13 verified mountain lion attacks on humans between 1986 and 2013 in California. Three of the attacks happened in the Sierra Nevada mountains or foothills. None happened in the Lake Tahoe Basin.
But, for caution’s sake, both Healy and Escobedo recommended people make their presence known when hiking in mountain lion country.
“Not sneaking up on wildlife is probably the best recommendation,” Escobedo said.
People also need to be aware of their pets when it comes to mountain lions because the predators can be opportunistic if dogs and cats are off-leash or left outside, Healy said.
Although some people are surprised by the presence of mountain lions in the area, being aware of wildlife is just a part of living in the region, Healy said.
The Forest Service requests people who see mountain lions report the sightings to 530-541-1801.