Tejon Ranch announced Friday that it plans to suspend its lucrative hunting operations temporarily as California Department of Fish and Game investigates the illegal killing of mountain lions on the historic 270,000-acre ranch north of Los Angeles.
The investigation was prompted by claims in a whistle-blower lawsuit filed by a former Tejon Ranch hunting guide who alleges that he was fired after he complained about the illegal killing of mountain lions at the direction of the company.
Bron Sanders, who worked at the ranch from 2004 until late 2010, made the claims in a lawsuit filed May 3 in Kern County Superior Court.
In an earlier interview, Sanders said he witnessed "20 mountain lions dead on the ground without a depredation permit."
Sanders said the killings were motivated by angry sentiments among ranch managers toward a 1990 law that made hunting mountain lions illegal in California.
The former ranch employee said managers also blamed mountain lions for feasting on game prized by trophy hunters who pay up to $20,000 to shoot elk.
State wildlife authorities completed their investigation late last year and forwarded their findings to the Kern County district attorneys office, which is weighing possible charges. Kern County prosecutors declined to comment on the case.
In an interview in May, Tejon Ranch officials denied the allegations. But in a statement Friday, Stine said the investigation determined that mountain lions were killed without authorization in clear violation of company policy and the state statute regulating the take of mountain lions in California.
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," he said.
"Accordingly," he said, "we are taking every step necessary to ensure it wont happen again.