State endangered species designation is being sought for the mountain lions of the Santa Monica Mountains and other at-risk populations of the big cat. The Center for Biological Diversity and Mountain Lion Foundation have formally petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to protect mountain lions under the California Endangered Species Act.
The petition seeks protections for “gravely imperiled cougar populations in Southern California and on the Central Coast, including the Eastern Peninsular Range, Santa Ana Mountains, San Bernardino Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, and north along the coast to the Santa Cruz Mountains.”
Research indicated some Southern California lion populations could disappear in little more than a decade. Researchers at UC Davis, UCLA, and with the National Park Service predicted that if inbreeding depression occurs, the Santa Ana population could go extinct within 12 years and the Santa Monica population within 15.
“Our mountain lions are dying horrible deaths from car collisions and rat poison, and their populations are at risk from inbreeding too,” said Tiffany Yap, a biologist at the Center and primary author of the petition.
“Without a clear legal mandate to protect mountain lions from the threats that are killing them and hemming them in on all sides, these iconic wild cats will soon be gone from Southern California.”
“These lion populations suffer from dangerously low genetic diversity,” Yap wrote. “The animals are often killed trying to cross freeways, in retaliation for preying on livestock, and by poachers. Others die excruciating deaths after consuming prey that have ingested toxic rodenticides. Whenever a female lion dies, there’s a good chance kittens are being orphaned.”
If mountain lions win protection under the Act, state and local agencies will have to work more carefully to manage threats to them. Road and development projects would have to include measures to preserve natural habitat links, such as wildlife crossings under freeways.
“Very few young lions can make their way through the maze of homes that dot the hillsides of Southern California,” said Lynn Cullens, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation. “They can’t cross eight-lane freeways to find a territory and establish a home. Yet the lion populations in isolated mountain ranges depend on the genes of these young immigrants to avoid extinction,”
P-75, the most recent mountain lion to be added to the NPS study is a prime example of how the big cats are impacted by development in the Santa Monica Mountains. The young female was discovered in a tree in a Pacific Palisades mobile home park on the morning of June 24.
The Los Angeles Police Department was called and secured the scene. Unlike officers from the Santa Monica Police Department who panicked and shot a healthy male mountain lion in 2012, these officers contacted the California Department of Fish & Wildlife officers and NPS biologists, who tranquilized the cat and transported her to a safe location within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.
In a coordinated effort, CDFW and NPS outfitted the young lion with a GPS radio tracking collar and an ID tag. She is the 75th mountain lion to join the study overall and the 10th active, collared cat in the Santa Monica Mountains. The incident highlights the vulnerability of the big cats.
“It’s time to recognize the threats that face mountain lions and improve our ability to protect them, because they matter for their own sakes and have significant value to all Californians,” Cullens said.
Under the California Endangered Species Act, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has three months to make an initial recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission, which will then vote on the petition at a public hearing later this year.