California lifted an automatic death sentence for mountain lions living in “genetically fragile populations” on Tuesday, according to a report from The Sacramento Bee. Animal rights groups are happy about the decision, even as others raise concerns about the safety of the pets and livestock the big cats prey on.

The decision means that state Department of Fish and Wildlife will no longer issues permits to livestock owners in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountain ranges of Southern California, who want to shoot the mountain lions. The permits were previously issued automatically if a mountain lion attacked domestic animals. Now, the applicant is required to try at least twice to get the animal to leave the area using nonlethal means. Only after two failed attempts to scare the lions away will a permit be issued to shoot them.

Animal rights groups hope to take the same policy statewide, but cattle and sheep ranchers are opposed to the changes..

The Bee reports:
In 1990, voters approved a ballot initiative that prohibited hunting of mountain lions. To appease livestock groups, the initiative’s backers included language in the law that says the state “shall” issue a depredation permit in the event a cougar attacks pets or livestock. The wildlife agency has always issued lethal permits. California issues around 218 of them every year, though typically less than half result in a kill.

A Sacramento Bee investigation published this fall revealed that since Proposition 117 passed, nearly four times as many lions are killed on average each year than were killed prior to the ballot measure passing.

In late 2016 a mountain lion known as P-45 brought the debate to the limelight, according to the Bee. Blamed for “rampaging through neighborhood llama and goat pens at night,” P-45 had crossed highways to make it to the isolated “island” hunting ground, making residents appreciative of his migratory skills.

Livestock owners in Malibu, not impressed, obtained a permit to kill P-45, which outraged animal rights activists “across the globe.”

According to the Bee, P-45 was shot, but he did not die from his injury and according to its tracking collar shows, he is still in the area.

Mountain lion advocates and biologists noted the case as they pushed for an end to the depredation permit policy in the Santa Monica range and in the Santa Ana Mountains. In that area, as in the area P-45 haunts, cougars are “cut off from the outside and studies show the cats are dangerously interbreeding,” and experts claim that they could eventually go extinct.

Lynn Cullens, the executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation said the best way to protect livestock from attack is by placing them in fully enclosed, lion-proofed pens at night, the Bee reports.

Former Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy, Wendell Phillips, condemned the move. “I think they’re bowing to political pressure, and it’s too bad,” he said. “But the reality is nobody will bother to apply for permits any more. Shoot, shovel and shut-up, that’s what coming.”