Mountain lion sighting reported at Skyline Park

California Fish and Wildlife are investigating
2014-04-14T15:32:00Z Mountain lion sighting reported at Skyline ParkJANELLE WETZSTEIN Napa Valley Register
April 14, 2014 3:32 pm  • 

A mountain lion that briefly chased a couple of Skyline Wilderness Park hikers has officials telling outdoor enthusiasts to exercise caution in the wild.

“Sightings up there are fairly rare, especially when you consider the hundreds of people who hike that area every day,” said Sgt. Mike Bartlett of Napa County Animal Control. “But there are definitely mountain lions up there. It’s the wilderness.”

Napa residents Liz Alessio and Steve Husong were reminded of this fact Sunday afternoon as they approached the crest of the Skyline trail near Lake Marie. As the couple hiked up the path toward the southern end of the park, Husong said he spotted a mountain lion about 40 feet ahead of them.

“It crouched down on the trail before continuing out of sight,” Husong said Monday afternoon. “I’ve been hiking in the woods all my life and I’ve only seen one other mountain lion. So I thought it was cool at first. But I’ve never seen anything like what happened next.”

Husong said he pointed the animal out to Alessio, who instantly became afraid. But because the cat had disappeared from sight, the pair pressed on up the path.

As Alessio’s fear got the best of her, she said she began walking faster and managed to get out about 15 feet in front of Husong. When she glanced back moments later, she was shocked to see the large mountain lion about 60 yards behind Husong.

“I shouted out ‘It’s behind you, we have to run!’ and I took off,” she said Monday, still shaken from the encounter. “When I looked back, the mountain lion was chasing Steve (Husong) up the trail and quickly gaining on him. It’s one thing to see an animal off in the distance, but it’s entirely different to have it chase you up a path.”

Husong, a war veteran who was injured in Afghanistan, said that he knew he couldn’t run fast enough to escape the approximately 150-pound cat.

“So I stopped, turned around, and stared it straight in the eyes,” he said.

Husong’s actions possibly saved his life. The animal stopped about 20 feet shy of him and crouched down on the trail, Husong said.

“It was huge, it made no noise at all and it stared at me,” he said. “And just like that, it went away.”

According to Husong, the animal slunk out of sight after several moments. As soon as it disappeared, Alessio and Husong ran back to their car — which was parked about nearly an hour’s walk away, back at the beginning of the trail.

Bartlett said he was surprised at the incident and added that California Fish and Wildlife are investigating. Requests for comment from Fish and Wildlife were not returned Monday.

“Typically, these animals don’t stalk people,” he said. “It’s rare that they’re even seen. And if they are, they’re usually trying to get away from people.”

A Skyline park ranger who refused to give his name said that the animal most likely chased the couple because they had continued up the path toward its location, rather than turning back and retreating down the trail.

“We are a wilderness park,” he said Monday morning. “This is the animal’s area. People are the guests.”

The ranger said that if people spot a mountain lion, they should stand their ground, try to look as large as they possibly can and make a lot of noise. Then, they should turn around and walk in the opposite direction, he said.

The ranger added that because he felt the incident was caused by the couple’s reaction to the mountain lion, he did not believe Fish and Wildlife would be killing the cat — standard protocol when a mountain lion attacks a human.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife has verified 13 mountain lion attacks since 1986 in California, three of which were fatal. Aside from Sunday’s encounter, there have been two reported mountain lion sightings at Skyline Wilderness Park in the past three years, including one in November. Other sightings have occurred throughout Napa County, though no local attacks have ever been recorded.

Park rangers will be posting signs this week to remind the public on ways to handle a mountain lion sighting. They are also requesting that anyone who sees a mountain lion alert park rangers immediately.

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. Atomicbugs
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    Atomicbugs - April 14, 2014 6:30 pm
    Never run from mountain lions. Raise your arms, make yourself look big and stare it down alike the gentleman finally did.
  2. caltom
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    caltom - April 14, 2014 7:52 pm
    I used to go and camp at lake marie,, caught lots of perch there,, when I was a kid,, that was about 60 yrs ago never saw a lion,,
  3. singscience
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    singscience - April 15, 2014 4:58 am
    They definitely did the wrong thing. Do a google search for "mountain lion body language" and find the article by the South Dakota Game, fish & parks department for an excellent primer, with photos, of how to read a mountain lion and the right actions to take based on what it's doing. Here's the link if this site will allow me to post it.

    http://gfp.sd.gov/wildlife/critters/mammals/lion-language.aspx
  4. glenroy
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    glenroy - April 15, 2014 6:11 am
    This place is crawling with cougars.....it's so out of whack it's crazy.
  5. Hasavoice
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    Hasavoice - April 15, 2014 6:38 am
    I hope the cat is not killed. The ranger is right, humans are guests. Although It would be good to have that type of warning/education posted in several places in the park. Especially in the parking lot with strong warning signs. If the woman had read a instructional warning sign she may not have run. It's natural to panic, I would do the same thing. Fortunately he stopped and they are ok.
  6. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - April 15, 2014 8:20 am
    Those eastern mountains have always had mountain lions. Now there are just more of them. In the 50's they were spotted on land just below the Vallejo Lakes. In those days you could shoot them. Once they became a protected species they have multiplied. There's lots of food for them around Skyline Park in the form of wild turkeys.
  7. selim_sivad
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    selim_sivad - April 15, 2014 12:21 pm
    Absolutely. Running from a mountain lion is just...well, to a mountain lion, it's meals on wheels.
  8. selim_sivad
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    selim_sivad - April 15, 2014 12:24 pm
    I hike Skyline quite a bit and am ALWAYS careful whenever I'm by myself or with my son. Haven't seen a lion there yet.

    I've already encountered one mountain lion while hiking elsewhere and, while it was an amazing experience, don't wish to run into another one alone or with my child.

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