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P-22 Is OK, But The Woolsey Fire Has Turned The Santa Monica Mountains Into A 'Moonscape'

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The Woolsey Fire continues to sweep across Southern California. So far it's scorched more than 98,000 acres and destroyed nearly 500 structures, according to the latest estimates from Cal Fire.

And that doesn't include the toll it's taken on the Santa Monica Mountains Recreational Area, which as of Friday morning totaled 20,839 acres. That means roughly 88 percent of the federally-owned land, which is managed by the National Park Service, has been burned.

P-74, a young male mountain lion captured in September 2018 in the central portion of the Santa Monica Mountains. (Santa Monica Mountains National Park Service)

The area is known for being the home of most of L.A.'s beloved mountain lion population, which NPS biologists have been tracking and studying since 2002. They currently have GPS collars on 13 mountain lions around the Santa Monica Mountains.

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Two of those pumas remain unaccounted for, but one in particular -- P-74 -- has researchers worried.

"(He) has a good working GPS collar and it hasn't checked in, that sometimes happens where we have a delay but we're a little concerned about that one," NPS spokeswoman Kate Kuykendall told KPCC's Take Two Wednesday morning.

The other cougar whose status remains unknown is P-42. But Kuykendall noted the puma's collar can only be tracked in person.

"I don't think we necessarily need to be too alarmed about that yet, we just haven't had a chance to actually be able to get out in the field to track them because of the fires," she said.

One sign of hope: The famous Griffith Park mountain lion P-22 was located Wednesday evening inside the park, according to a tweet sent by the Santa Monica Mountains' account shortly before 9 p.m. on Wednesday.

Biologists had also been working to find four bobcats in the park, all of which had their territories completely burned by the fire, according to NPS officials. As of Friday morning, three of the four bobcats had been located, though their condition was not known.

Chapparal and coastal sage scrub has been replaced by burnt earth and what Kuykendall describes as looking like a "moonscape." As a result there's worry now about mudflow risk when it rains.

"Anytime you have the vegetation burned off the land that makes it at risk for mud flow and especially if there's slope involved," she said. "The Santa Monica mountains have a lot of slopes so it is definitely a big concern."

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Roughly 88 percent of the land in the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area has burned, according to the National Park Service. (Matt Tinoco/LAist)

But this isn't the first time the area has suffered from fire devastation. In 2013, the Springs Fire burned about 24,000 acres on the western end of the park.

A project was set up afterward to study how wildlife and the area bounced back from the flames. NPS observed coyotes adapted best to the scorched landscape, even better than unburned landscape. The opposite was true for foxes and rabbits. Deer only came back after some time had passed.

Kuykendall said the Woolsey Fire "has basically burned half of the already isolated island of habitat we have here, which is surrounded by freeways and the ocean."

"We know that wildlife is extremely adaptable and they still have unburned habitat to the east and the west, but we're not sure what the future holds."


Friday, 10:06 a.m.: This article was updated with the latest figures on the acres burned in the park as well as the status of the four bobcats in the region.

Wednesday, 10:30 p.m.: This article was updated with news that P-22 has been found safe.

This article was originally published at noon Wednesday.

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