The Center for Biological Diversity and Mountain Lion Foundation petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission June 25 to protect mountain lions under the California Endangered Species Act.
The petition seeks protections for imperiled cougar populations in Southern California and on the central coast including the San Bernardino Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, Santa Ana Mountains, Eastern Peninsular Range, and north along the coast to the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Some Southern California lion populations could disappear, according to a March 2019 study. Researchers at UC Davis, UCLA and the National Park Service predicted that if inbreeding depression occurs, the Santa Ana population could go extinct within 12 years.
“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.”
Habitat loss and fragmentation caused by freeways and sprawl have led to high levels of genetic isolation and human-caused mortality. These lion populations suffer from dangerously low genetic diversity. The animals are often killed trying to cross freeways, in retaliation for preying on livestock and by poachers.
“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 those young immigrants to avoid extinction.”
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.
If mountain lions win protection under the 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.
For more information, visit mountainlion.org.