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SoCal Mountain Lions Recommended For Endangered Species Protection

As her designated number suggests, P-75 is the 75th mountain lion to join the study overall. (Courtesy California Department of Fish & Wildlife)
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The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is now recommending that six genetically distinct mountain lion populations, including three groups in Southern California, be included for protection under the state's Endangered Species Act.

This comes after a joint petition filed last year by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Sacramento-based Mountain Lion Foundation, calling for the state to elevate those groups to “threatened" or "endangered” status.

It also comes just days after a mountain lion tracked by the National Park Service, P-56, was killed by a property owner under a special depredation permit in late January. Hunting mountain lions has been illegal in California since 1990, but individuals who can prove one is responsible for the loss or damage of livestock can obtain such a permit. That was the case with P-56, whose killing came in response to the deaths of 12 sheep and lambs in the Camarillo area.

While mountain lions are not currently classified as threatened or endangered, joint research from the National Park Service, UCLA, and UC Davis last year found that Southern California’s big cats could go extinct in the next 50 years.

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The ranges for the three local populations include:

  • Santa Monica Mountains
  • Santa Ana Mountains
  • Eastern Peninsular Range

All three are experiencing some degree of genetic “bottlenecking” due to habitat loss and isolation.

"They're also getting hit by cars, killed by rat poison, as well as depredation kills and poaching,” says Tiffany Yap, a biologist with the Center for Biological Diversity and the petition’s lead author. "There's just this onslaught of threats to these mountain lion populations, that if nothing is done, they won't survive in the long-term."

The process now goes to the state Fish and Game Commission, which is expected to begin its review of the recommendation on April 15th. If the recommendation is approved, it could force major changes in how public agencies approve plans and acquire land for new housing developments, roads, and other projects so that they don’t interfere with existing mountain lion habitats.

That’s critical for local mountain lion populations to rebound, says Debra Chase with the Mountain Lion Foundation.

“It gives us hope that something good can come out of this,” says Chase. “If this protection is approved and becomes law, P-56 didn’t die in vain.”