Half Dome in California's Yosemite National Park
Photo of landsacape.


Help change depredation policies to protect mountain lions in California.

Mountain lion field research and population estimates have come a long way in the last few decades. Most biologists now agree on an average lion population density of 1.7 lions per 100 sq km of habitat. In California (~185,000 sq km of habitat), that equates to approximately 3,145 resident mountain lions for the entire state. Marc Kenyon gave credence to that estimate in 2012 when he stated that California's lion "population size is, in fact, smaller than it was 10 years ago." He attributed this decrease to dwindling lion habitat and the hunting policies in surrounding states. He estimated California's statewide lion population to be approximately 4,000 animals and dropping.

  • Return to the portal page for California.

  • The status of Puma concolor in California.

  • State law and regulations affecting cougars.

  • The history of cougars in California.

  • Ecosystems and habitat in California.

  • Cougar science and research in California.

  • Our library of media, research and reports.

  • How you can take action to help!

SUMMARY: Cougars in the State of California

For more detail you can explore using the links below.

The status of puma concolor.

California's mountain lion population has been through many ups and downs. The state encompasses 155,959 square miles of land, most of which was originally prime mountain lion habitat. Yet less than half the state has cats still roaming the hills. The population has had to contend with bounties, hunting, development, highways, and conflicts with livestock. Read below to find out more about where moutain lion populations in California currently stand.

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Mountain lion law in California.

At this time, California has no formal management plan for mountain lions. State law requires CDFW to issue a depredation permit against any offending lion, if a resident requests one and there is proof that the mountain lion has preyed on or threatened domestic animals or private property. Mountain lions can also be killed at any time if deemed a threat to the public's safety.

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The history of lions in the state.

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.

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Lion habitat in California.

The state of California encompasses 155,959 square miles of land. Of this, 46 percent of the state is considered to be suitable mountain lion habitat. This habitat is distributed throughout the state except for the Central Valley and much of the southeastern deserts. Keep in mind that although lions are physically capable of living in certain places (based on geographical, vegetative and prey species characteristics), it does not mean they necessarily do. Fragmentation, sport hunting practices, and intolerant communities can wipe out lions from any area. For more data on habitat-usage, check out our Science tab.

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The science of lions in the state.

There are a variety of research projects going on in California. Research has often been conducted in collaboration. Some organizations that have conducted research are California Department of Fish and Wildlife, UC Santa Cruz, National Park Service, Audubon Canyon Ranch, UC Davis, East Bay Regional Parks, and Felidae.

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Take action for lions.

Currently, officials are required to issue a depredation permit to domestic animal owners who experience a verified loss. CDFW must issue a permit, regardless of the circumstances which led to the depredation. This is true even when killing the lion is not the best long-term solution for preventing further incidents. The decisions are most often made without expert scientific insight into the cause of the depredation or the value of the lion within the population. This new bill, AB 8, has the potential to assist fragile populations of lions at risk of extirpation and allow governments and citizens to find permanent solutions to conflicts.

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