SACRAMENTO -- The California Department of Fish and Wildlife on Friday unveiled broad changes to its policies for responding to mountain lions that wander into cities and suburbs, a philosophical shift prompted in part by the fatal shooting Dec. 1 of two mountain lion cubs in Half Moon Bay.

The new guidelines allow for the increased use of nonlethal measures and bolster training programs for wardens in capturing and restraining wildlife. They also would allow for the rehabilitation and release of captured lions, provided a law is passed giving the agency that authority.

Tim Dunbar, executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Lion Foundation, called the changes a good-faith response by Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonham to a growing outcry over the department's killing of mountain lions that the agency deemed were public safety threats. Critics said the agency's definition of public safety threats was too broad, leading to needless killings of California's top predator.

"I want to give the director credit, because this is a vast improvement over what they had," said Dunbar, adding, "One thing I'm still worried about is whether they're able as a bureaucracy to carry out these guidelines."

The centerpiece of the revised rules is a new category that covers situations that do not rise to the level of a public safety threat but merely involve a potential conflict between a cougar and humans. During these encounters, wardens will now consult with a newly created "response guidance team" in analyzing possible nonlethal responses such as tranquilizing the animals, snaring them with a catchpole or chasing them off with dogs.

The new policies may also be applied, when appropriate, to black bears, coyotes and certain exotic wildlife, a subject Fish and Wildlife plans to analyze in more detail later this year.

Bonham was not available Friday to discuss the guidelines, but Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said the "potential human conflict" category is designed to give wardens "more time to evaluate the situation and access to institutional knowledge and experience."

The changes are similar to what Dunbar and other wildlife advocates proposed after the controversial shooting in December, when wardens decided a pair of cubs hiding under a porch constituted a threat to public safety. An autopsy determined the cubs were starving 4-month-olds.

State Sen. Jerry Hill introduced a bill in January that contains many of the changes contained in the new guidelines. The bill, which requires four-fifths approval in the state Legislature, would authorize Fish and Wildlife both to work with wildlife rescue and other outside groups in capturing cougars and to rehabilitate some lions and release them back into the wild.

Hill, D-San Mateo, praised the department's new rules, adding that he will continue to pursue his bill.

"We've got a great governor and a great director now," said Hill, referring to Gov. Jerry Brown and Charlton Bonham. "But governors and directors come and go, so that's why we need these changes enacted in statute."

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.