SAVING THE CALIFORNIA MOUNTAIN LION
The resilient mountain lion goes by many names: puma, cougar, panther, catamount and even “ghost cat.” Over the past century in California, it has survived habitat loss and government-sponsored extermination campaigns that wiped out the state’s grizzly bears and gray wolves.
But today mountain lions in Southern California and along the Central Coast are gravely threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation from freeways and rampant sprawl development.
We’re working to save these iconic cats.
Hemmed in by highways and killed by cars, California’s cougars are isolated in small, unsustainable populations. Barriers prevent young mountain lions from migrating in or out to establish their own home ranges and find mates.
That’s causing dangerous inbreeding and genetic-diversity declines, leaving some mountain lion populations vulnerable to extinction. In fact, some could disappear in just 15 years if inbreeding gets worse.
To protect these cats, California needs clear state mandates to improve wildlife connectivity. The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), state lawmakers and local officials need to build wildlife crossings and protect large areas of intact habitat so mountain lions have room to thrive.
The Center is working to secure state-level protection for California mountain lions. We petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to list the Southern California and Central Coast mountain lion populations as “threatened” under the California Endangered Species Act.
In response the California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended in 2020 that listing may be warranted. The Fish and Game Commission voted two months later to accept the department’s recommendation and advance these populations to candidacy. Protections are in place while state biologists are conducting a status review for the vote on formal listing in 2021.
At the local level, with the Center’s support, Ventura County adopted a first-of-its-kind ordinance to protect habitat connectivity and wildlife movement corridors for mountain lions and other species. The ordinance was challenged in court by industry groups, and the Center has joined a coalition of conservation organizations to defend it.
We also continue to fight individual projects that threaten California mountain lions. In 2018 we led a coalition challenging the Altair development, which would have further isolated the already dwindling Santa Ana puma population, and obtained a legal agreement in October 2020 to protect a critical wildlife corridor after a favorable court ruling. In 2021 judges blocked two other projects that we filed suits against, the Northlake and Centennial developments that would have harmed mountain lions and wildlife connectivity while increasing wildfire risk.
After two young puma brothers left their mom, they were boxed in and killed because of roads and development fragmenting their California habitat. To save these iconic big cats, state and local agencies need to improve habitat connectivity.