Wildlife Groups Seek Endangered Status For California Mountain Lions

These "iconic wild cats" could soon be gone, warn advocates.
California mountain lion kittens.
California mountain lion kittens.

Two wildlife advocacy groups have petitioned California to grant endangered species status to the state’s mountain lions to help protect them from encroachments that threaten to drive them to extinction.

“Our mountain lions are dying horrible deaths from car collisions and rat poison, and their populations are at risk from inbreeding,” warned Tiffany Yap, a biologist at the Center for Biological Diversity, which presented the petition with the Mountain Lion Foundation. “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.”

The striking apex predators that roam the hills of Southern California are critical to the region’s ecosystem yet are increasingly threatened by development and a crisscross snare of highways. If cars don’t kill the animals, the roadways tend to keep populations isolated, significantly reducing mating opportunities and the big cats’ genetic diversity, which affects their health.  

The latest big cat wandering dangerously close to human development was an apparently healthy year-old female spotted wandering around a trailer park in the Santa Monica Mountains earlier this week. The mountain lion, weighing about 50 pounds, has been dubbed P-75.

Peter Tira, a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, speculated that the young female likely left her mother recently. “These lions often are the ones that get lost, take a wrong turn, end up in a populated area ... and sometimes need help getting back to wild habitat,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Fish and Wildlife officials and the National Park Service outfitted P-75 with a  tracking collar before she was released into the mountains away from housing developments.

P-75 up a tree.
P-75 up a tree.

The petition filed Tuesday by the wildlife groups argues that six isolated and genetically distinct cougar clans from the California-Mexico border to Santa Cruz comprise a subpopulation that is threatened by extinction. A recent study determined that there’s nearly a 1 in 4 chance that the mountain lions in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains could be wiped out in the next 50 years.

The mountain lions are not federally protected. If the state opts to grant the animals state endangered species status, that would result in restrictions on housing and commercial development and roadways to include considerations for the mountain lions’ survival. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has three months to make an initial recommendation to the Fish and Game Commission. The commission will then vote on the status after a public hearing later this year.

The sought-after status is part of a mosaic of protections mountain lion supporters are trying to create in the area. In March, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors passed a groundbreaking new law protecting “wildlife corridors” and other land use restrictions to safeguard movement of the animals through the region. The wildlife passages are now part of the zoning law in the region adjacent to Los Angeles County.