Historically, mountain lions were heavily persecuted in California. Classified as a "bountied predator" from 1907 to 1963, a record 12,462 mountain lions were killed (more than any other state) and turned in for the bounty. These laws were repealed in the 60s, they were briefly hunted, and then in the 90s they became protected. Mountain lions have come a long way in the last few decades. Read on to find out about this exciting history of mountain lions in California.
Genetic research indicates that the common ancestor of today's Leopardus, Lynx, Puma, Prionailurus, and Felis lineages migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas approximately 8 to 8.5 million years ago.
What we know as a cougar today became recognizable as a distinct species about 400,000 years ago, and inhabited nearly all of the Americas for hundreds of thousands of years, alongside the giant sloth, the mammoth, the dire wolf and the sabre-toothed lion.
During the Pleistocene ice ages, conditions appear to have become too cold for cougar populations to survive, and paleotologists believe that at the end of the last ice age, the big cats repopulated North America from a southern refugium. Cougars have inhabited California, alongside humans, for more than 40,000 years.
Native people memorialized the cougar in rock carvings, totems, in story and in song. As European settlement expanded in the 1840's, cougar persecution and riding the landscape of dangerous wildlife became more common.
Historically, mountain lions were
heavily persecuted in
In 1969, the state legislature again reclassified mountain lions as a "game mammal." This action was undertaken to control supposed livestock damage and to "manage" mountain lions through regulated hunting.
In 1971 and 1972 California held its only regulated lion-hunting seasons, during which time 118 mountain lions were killed for sport.
In 1971, the state legislature passed new legislation, signed by then governor, Ronald Reagan which placed a moratorium on the sport hunting of mountain lions. The lion hunting moratorium, which started on March 1, 1972, was maintained until 1986 at which time the regulated hunting of mountain lions was once again authorized. Despite this authorization, political pressure from individual citizens and conservation organizations such as the Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF) kept lions from being hunted for sport in California over the next four years.
In 1990, a coalition of
conservation organizations, including MLF, placed
Proposition 117 — commonly known as the "mountain lion initiative" — on the statewide ballot. This
proposition, the first to have been placed solely
with signatures collected by volunteers in
In 1996, trophy-hunting proponents got the state
legislature to place Proposition 197 on the March
primary ballot. Drafted in part by the Safari Club,
this initiative was presented to voters under the
guise of "public safety" concerns in an effort to
overturn the ban on killing mountain lions for
recreational purposes. Proposition 197 was
overwhelmingly rejected by 58.12 percent of
Since the 1996 failure to repeal the State's lion-hunting ban, there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts by lawmakers to introduce legislation that would overturn Proposition 117's lion-hunting restrictions.
At this time,
On September 6, 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 132 into law. This groundbreaking legislation (effective January 1, 2014), protects lions that accidentally wander into human-populated areas. Law Enforcement and Wildlife Officers can only kill a lion if it is posing an imminent threat to human life: exhibiting aggressive behavior towards a person that is not due to the presence of first responders.
The new law (F&G Code 4801.5) also allows CDFW to partner with qualified individuals, educational institutions, government agencies, or nongovernmental organizations to implement nonlethal procedures on a mountain lion which include rescue and rehabilitation.