SACRAMENTO— In response to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and the Mountain Lion Foundation, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife today recommended that six struggling mountain lion populations move toward protection under the state’s Endangered Species Act.
The department is recommending candidate protection for cougar populations in Southern California and on the Central Coast. P-56, a male mountain lion in the critically endangered Santa Monica population, was killed in January under a state-issued depredation permit. Protection under the Act would likely constrain the issuance of further permits to kill cougars in protected populations that have been accused of preying on livestock.
“We’re elated that California’s big cats are a step closer to protection,” said Tiffany Yap, a biologist at the Center and primary author of the petition. “These amazing animals face huge threats that could wipe out key populations. We urge the state to finalize these protections quickly so mountain lions can thrive in California for generations to come.”
The Center and the Foundation petitioned the state in June 2019 to protect six populations of mountain lions across the state. California’s Fish and Game Commission will decide in April whether to grant these populations candidate status under the state Endangered Species Act. A candidate designation triggers a year-long review of whether the species should be formally protected under the state Act. The Act’s full protections apply during the year-long candidacy period.
Some Southern California lion populations could disappear in little more than a decade, according to a March 2019 study. Researchers with the National Park Service, UC Davis and UCLA warn that if enough inbreeding occurs, the Santa Ana population could go extinct within 12 years, and the Santa Monica population within 15.
“Mountain lion populations are dying from vehicle strikes and depredations and are increasingly isolated as freeways slice up their remaining habitat,” said Debra Chase, CEO of the Mountain Lion Foundation. “We urge state officials to move quickly to protect these iconic cats.”
Mountain lions are also killed in retaliation for preying on livestock, and by poachers. Others die excruciating deaths after consuming prey that have ingested toxic rodenticides. When a female lion dies, there’s a good chance cubs are being orphaned.
Mountain lions can provide profound environmental benefits that support the overall health of California ecosystems. Their kills provide an important food source for a host of wild animals, including California condors and gray foxes. Their presence has been shown to benefit native plants, butterflies and even songbird populations.
If mountain lions win protection under California’s Endangered Species Act, state and local agencies will have to work more carefully to manage threats to them. For example, road and development projects would have to include measures to preserve natural habitat links, such as wildlife crossings under freeways.