Bear, elk lawsuits influence lion hunt

From The Arizona Daily Star:

Arizona wildlife managers feel they have to shoot first and ask questions later, says the lawyer who defended the state in a lawsuit that resulted in a $2.5 million settlement for a Tucson girl mauled by a bear on Mount Lemmon.

That settlement and a more recent $3 million jury award for a Tucson man injured when he hit an elk with a vehicle affected the decision to order a mountain lion hunt in Sabino Canyon, said Tucson attorney Mick Rusing. “It is the real driving force behind the scene,” Rusing said.

“The default position of Game and Fish is now, ‘When in doubt, take it out,’ ” Rusing said. “If the courts and the Legislature are not going to protect these agencies and the people who make the decisions, that’s the way it’s going to be.”

Attorney Ted Schmidt represented Anna Knochel, the 16-year-old girl who was mauled by a bear in 1996 during a 4-H campout in the Santa Catalina Mountains. He agreed with Rusing that liability concerns are influencing decisions on the mountain lions, but said the concerns are justified.

He said Game and Fish knows it has nonyielding mountain lions in Sabino Canyon and knows that such animals can attack and kill. “I would expect any wildlife expert would tell you that’s a pretty serious problem. If anything were to happen, you might very well be able to make that case against the state of Arizona,” he said.

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