Helping Wildlife Move: One Researcher’s Journey Studying and Promoting Wildlife Crossings in the U.S.
Join us as Dr. Patricia Cramer has an engaging and informative conversation with Logan Christian about her career studying and promoting wildlife crossings in the United States. Dr. Cramer has 25 years of experience helping identify, prioritize, and implement wildlife crossings to save both human and animal lives. Her insights are invaluable for anyone interested in promoting wildlife connectivity for mountain lions and other species.
Not long ago, many were skeptical of the idea to build special bridges, underpasses and other infrastructure to help wildlife safely cross or avoid roads. Today, however, these technologies are becoming much more common thanks to the efforts of researchers like Dr. Patricia Cramer. Working in over a dozen states, Dr. Cramer collaborates with wildlife managers, transportation planners and many others to identify critical wildlife corridors and choke points where wildlife crossing infrastructure could help prevent wildlife-vehicle collisions. Having kick-started her career modeling movement pathways for the Florida panther, Dr. Cramer also works diligently to ensure that planners consider mountain lions and other native carnivores in the planning and prioritization of wildlife crossings. Join us for a conversation with Dr. Cramer as she discusses what it takes to help wildlife move through the landscape in a rapidly changing world.
About Dr. Patricia Cramer
Dr. Patricia Cramer is an independent wildlife scholar. For the past 18 years she has researched wildlife crossing structures and worked to include wildlife concerns in the transportation planning process, with the goal of reducing wildlife-vehicle collisions while promoting wildlife connectivity across landscapes. Her research projects include three national level projects, and work with 14 departments of transportation, mainly in the western U.S. Patricia earned her PhD from the University of Florida in Wildlife Conservation, a Master’s Degree from Montana State University in Wildlife Ecology, and undergraduate degree in wildlife from State University of New York College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry.
Mountain Lions in California – from North to South, and One Researcher’s Journey to Help Conserve Them
Winston Vickers is a wildlife veterinarian with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center who has conducted research into mountain lions in California for the last 20 years. In that time, he and collaborators, and other researchers in the state, have learned a vast amount about the mountain lion populations in California, and unfortunately the news has often not been good. The accumulated research has shown that connections between populations across the state have been restricted or in some cases mostly severed to the point of ten separate subpopulations being identifiable genetically. Several of these subpopulations are at risk of significant decline or extirpation due to low annual survival rates, inbreeding, and worsening habitat loss and fragmentation. In this talk Dr. Vickers will detail the latest scientific findings from across the state that are guiding actions that may increase the odds of long term persistence of puma populations, what individuals can do to assist in their conservation, and will talk about his personal pathway into mountain lion research and conservation.
About Dr. Winston Vickers
Dr. Vickers is a wildlife research veterinarian with the University of California-Davis Wildlife Health Center and the Institute for Wildlife Studies. He obtained his DVM at Oklahoma State University and practiced on large, small, and exotic species for over 20 years before returning to school to get his Master of Preventive Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis with a focus on wildlife disease and ecology. He has been studying mountain lions and other wildlife for 20 years and directs the UCD Wildlife Health Center’s mountain lion study. He collaborates extensively with other mountain lion researchers, NGO’s, and governmental agencies in the state and elsewhere in the West, and his studies of mountain lions address issues of mortality, connectivity, habitat use, genetics, disease, conservation, and reducing negative interactions with humans and livestock. He also collaborates on studies involving other wildlife species studies, including bobcats, Channel Island foxes, Santa Cruz Island scrub jays and other avian species. He worked for many years with the Wildlife Health Center’s Oiled Wildlife Care Network on oil spill response, and is the author or a co-author of over 35 peer reviewed publications, one book chapter, and numerous white papers and reports to wildlife and other government agencies. He co-developed and directed a 9-part series of short educational documentaries about mountain lions, as well as a one hour film, that have been viewed nearly 1.8 million times and can be viewed here (https://www.camountainlions.com/). His work has been featured in numerous articles in the newspapers and in several books, and he has twice been named one of the 100 most influential individuals in Orange County, CA by the Orange County Register.
January 12, 2022 at 4:00PM – 5:30PM PST
(5:00PM – 6:30PM MT, 6:00PM – 7:30PM CT, 7:00PM – 8:30PM ET)
Arizona is proposing new hunting regulations that will have serious impacts on the native carnivore populations in the state and the ecosystems they depend on. We need your help in advocating to make these new rules as strong as they can be to protect mountain lions and other native carnivores.
Please join the Mountain Lion Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity and Humane Society of the United States for a webinar on the proposed changes being made to the Arizona hunting guidelines. Our staff will explain the changes and how you can help to make sure they do not have a devastating impact on mountain lions, bobcats and bears.
Presenters: Logan Christian – Region 2 Conservation Advocate, Mountain Lion Foundation
Haley Stewart – Wildlife Program Manager, Humane Society of the United States
Gabe Wigtil – Arizona State Director, Humane Society of the United States
Sophia Ressler – Staff Attorney, Center for Biological Diversity
Non-Lethal Predator Deterrence & Regenerative Farming on a Sheep Ranch in Colorado
January 6, 2022 at 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM PST includes limited live Q&A afterwards.
(1:00 PM – 2:30 PM MT, 2:00 – 2:30 PM CT, 3:00 PM – 4:30 PM ET)
Join us as David and Mary Miller have an engaging and informative conversation with Logan Christian about their success using non-lethal predator deterrence and regenerative agriculture practices. With over 25 years of experience, David and Mary’s expertise and insights can be used by other farmers and ranchers, no matter how small.
About David & Mary Miller: David & Mary Miller raise lambs and livestock guard dogs on their ranch in Crowley County. They started their own business, Triple M Bar Ranch, in 1994. Triple M Bar Ranch is a family-owned and operated ranch in Southeastern Colorado. They take pride in raising naturally grown lamb and Livestock guard dogs that are born and raised with their sheep. David and Mary are the main ranch hands. Their ranch headquarters sits on Buckeye Hill in Crowley County on the bluffs overlooking the Arkansas River Valley. They also have grazing land in the valley along the river.
“FUZZ: When Nature Breaks the Law” – A conversation with author Mary Roach
FUZZ: When Nature Breaks the Law. In her new book beloved science writer Mary Roach wrangles a question that has defied satisfactory resolution for centuries: What is the proper course of action when nature breaks laws intended for people? Roach approaches this question with the same keen wit she previously applied to sex (Bonk), death (Stiff), ghosts (Spook), and space (Packing for Mars).
Roach’s globe-spanning survey covers drunken elephants in India, seagull vandals in the Vatican, and our beloved mountain lions in California. She reveals how peace between species is tantalizingly within our reach—if only we could do a better job of keeping respectfully apart.”
Join us for a conversation with author Mary Roach as she discusses her book – “FUZZ: When Nature Breaks the Law” with Mountain Lion Foundation’s own Jessica Janson.
About Mary Roach:
Mary Roach is the author of the New York Times bestsellers STIFF, SPOOK, BONK, GULP, GRUNT, and PACKING FOR MARS. Mary has written for National Geographic, Wired, and The New York Times Magazine, among others, and her TED talk made the TED 20 Most Watched list. She has been a guest editor for Best American Science and Nature Writing, a finalist for the Royal Society’s Winton Prize, and a winner of the American Engineering Societies’ journalism award, in a category for which, let’s be honest, she was the sole entrant. https://www.maryroach.net/fuzz.html
On the Trail with Photographer Roy Toft: The Art of Photographing Pumas and Other Wildcats
Wildlife photographer Roy Toft discusses the art of photographing pumas and other wildcats with Mountain Lion Foundation’s own Jessica Janson.
From exotic locations all over the globe we explore photographer Roy Toft’s world of pumas and other wildcats through the lens of his camera. Join us and be part of the adventure!
About Roy Toft:
Roy started working as a full-time wildlife photographer in 1991. Spending 6-9 months in the field every year producing natural history content for magazines, books, etc. Around 2000, Roy started leading photo safaris around the world to photography enthusiasts as well as continuing his assignment and stock work. In 2005, Roy became a founding fellow in the International League of Conservation Photographers. This elite group of top professionals combine their talents to further conservation causes around the globe. Roy’s images have been published widely in popular magazines like National Geographic, Discover, Smithsonian, Audubon, etc. His coffee table book “Osa…where the Rainforest meets the Sea” is a wonderful tribute to an area in Costa Rica where Roy owned property and has been visiting for over 30 years. Roy makes his home in the beautiful boulders of Ramona with his wife Stella.
The Mountain Lion Minutes are a monthly blog authored by Zack Curcija, an Arizona-based volunteer with the Mountain Lion Foundation.
Why Advocate for Mountain Lions?
Mountain lion. Puma. Cougar. Catamount. Panther. The many common names that describe the cat known scientifically as Puma concolor reflect the physical prowess and adaptability of the species. Historically ranging from northern Canada to the southern tip of Patagonia and from the Atlantic to the Pacific coasts, the mountain lion is the most successful large mammal in the Western Hemisphere, next to humans. In the United States, the species is now primarily confined to the Mountain West, living in areas that support deer, their chief prey. From alpine meadows, through rugged canyons, and across sunbaked deserts, the mountain lion reigns as the top carnivore throughout most of its present range.
In the rugged American West, and in a small pocket of the Florida everglades, mountain lions found refuge from the centuries of persecution that extirpated the grizzly bear and wolf throughout much of the contiguous United States. Despite losing over 60% of their range in North America since the time of European contact, the IUCN registers the mountain lion as a species of “Least Concern,” since a robust population exists in the western United States and Canada where suitable habitat is currently abundant (Nielsen et al. 2008).
So why advocate for a species if their present population is deemed stable? In short, mountain lions require human advocates for the simple fact that human mismanagement of the natural world poses the greatest threat to the long-term survival of the species. Mountain lions cannot speak for themselves, but their success demonstrates their ability to flourish if afforded sufficient protection from habitat destruction and overhunting.
Ethical questions about the natural world can be viewed through three distinct yet potentially overlapping lenses. An anthropocentric view appraises the natural world for its direct and indirect value to humans. An ecocentric view is concerned with the integrity and intrinsic value of ecosystems. A biocentric view narrows the scope of ethical consideration to the well-being of individual nonhuman animals (Halsey and White 1988). I submit that the preservation of mountain lions strikes at the intersection of all three views, that each perspective forms one part of a braid that is essential to the long-term conservation of mountain lions and other nonhuman animals. In the following paragraphs, I will introduce the ways in which each perspective informs mountain lion advocacy, topics that will be explored in greater detail in subsequent essays.
Mountain lions are sentient creatures, and their capacity to suffer should warrant them ethical consideration on the individual level. Darwin’s (1871) elegant statement that, “The difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind” has been substantiated in the fields of modern zoology, psychology, ethology, and others (de Waal 2016). Mountain lions are no exception, and, as mammals, they share with humans hundreds of millions of years of evolutionary history resulting in a similar physiology and nervous system.
Far from being the senseless killers of historical American lore, those who study mountain lions know them to be intelligent animals that exhibit the range of emotions and capacities of domestic cats. Like their domesticated feline cousins, mountain lions are playful, emotional, intelligent, and curious. Trail cameras and observations from the field reveal the otherwise secretive lives of wild mountain lions: a mother mountain lion purring while grooming and cuddling with her kittens, spirited kittens rambunctiously playing amongst themselves, an adult lion pushing and chasing a river cobble across a sandy beach.
Though generally regarded as solitary, mountain lions exist within a network of intraspecific interactions. Female mountain lions, in particular, spend the bulk of their adult lives caring for litters of dependent offspring. Meanwhile, adult males dedicate a significant portion of their time to patrolling their territory for infiltrating males and searching for responsive females to sire litters.
Recent research is beginning to unveil the complexity of mountain lion sociology. Elbroch and colleagues (2017) recorded reciprocally altruistic food-sharing relationships between individual mountain lions in their study area, where a successful individual shares its kill with another, often unrelated, mountain lion from an adjacent or overlapping territory. Such reciprocal relationships – a prosocial feature common to humans – requires the cognitive ability to recall past encounters, to consider the future, and to mentally map the territories of friendly conspecifics. The authors suggest that this behavior may function to reduce potentially deadly intraspecific conflict, to relieve the high energetic demands and risks associated with frequent solitary hunting, and to maintain social order and breeding access between individual mountain lions.
Existing at low population densities, each individual mountain lion forms an integral component of the regional mountain lion population. With such large territorial needs, mountain lions are known as an umbrella species, because protecting sufficient habitat for them will invariably provide abundant habitat for a plethora of other species with smaller territorial requirements (Lambeck 1997; Beier 2009). For instance, the average range of an adult male mountain lion of 75-150 square miles may harbor thousands of individuals from other mammal or bird species and millions of individual insects (Shaw 2009).
As apex predators, mountain lions are ecosystem engineers that exert top-down control over the ecosystems they inhabit. Their presence in an area modulates the behavior of prey species. By keeping ungulates alert and mobile, mountain lions prevent the overconsumption of vegetation and mitigate the detrimental ecological consequences that would result, such as inhibited riparian plant recruitment, increased erosion, and changes to stream turbidity and temperature (Ripple and Beschta 2006). By disproportionately selecting aged and diseased prey species, mountain lions help direct ungulate population health (Krumm et al. 2010). Once prey is captured, the carrion produced and distributed by mountain lions supports an unprecedented variety of organisms, including numerous species of beetles, birds, and other mammals (Barry et al. 2018).
In addition to the cultural significance of such an iconic species, mountain lions offer ecosystem services that directly and indirectly benefit humans. Although industrialization allows modern humans to feel insulated from the natural world, we still ultimately rely on healthy ecosystems and the health of the components therein. Like other top carnivores, mountain lions are essential to ecosystem function, and their conservation should therefore appeal to those holding even the strongest anthropocentric view.
Though equipped with sharp teeth, claws, and incredible physical capabilities, mountain lions are far from the most dangerous animal to humans in North America. In the United States, this distinction goes to the mountain lion’s primary prey, deer. Each year, over 1.2 million vehicular collisions with deer injure 28,000 and kill over 200 people in the US. These accidents are most frequent in the East, where mountain lions and wolves are absent, and deer have consequently reached unnaturally high densities. Since mountain lions prevent deer overpopulation and modulate deer behavior, the ecosystem services provided by mountain lions offer compelling arguments to encourage their recolonization of their former range, possibly saving hundreds of human lives and billions of dollars each year (Gilbert et al. 2016). In addition to reducing vehicular collisions with deer, mountain lions contribute to curbing the spread of diseases for which deer are vectors, such as Lyme disease and chronic wasting disease (Krumm et al. 2010; Elbroch 2020).
As sentient animals that play an integral role in the ecosystems they inhabit, and upon which humans ultimately depend, mountain lions are worthy of protection. Clairvoyance is not required to foresee the impending threats mountain lions will face in the western US in the coming decades. We need only to identify the factors that led to the extirpation to their eastern cousins a century ago, and the recent extinction of their more distant feline cousins across the globe. Though mountain lions are notoriously cryptic in their habits, decades of rigorous research has clearly established the biological needs of the species. Mountain lions, like other large cats, require large, continuous tracks of biologically productive land with connectivity between subpopulations to maintain genetic diversity. Without adequate protected space, viable populations of mountain lions cannot survive, irrespective of how the species is managed by game agencies.
While levels of sport hunting in some US states exceed historic levels of bounty hunting, the greatest long-term threat to mountain lions is the loss, fragmentation, and degradation of habitat (Shaw 1989). As the human population and attendant industrialization increases in the American West, so too does the pressure placed on mountain lions. The trends of diminishing habitat, an exploding human population, and increasing hunting thresholds in the West are – without intervention – destined to replicate the tragedy of the eastern cougar.
The chronicles of the eastern and western mountain lion populations should not be viewed as distinct, but as a continuous story of the consequences of increasing human population densities and habitat degradation across the continental US. The current plight of threatened subpopulations within the American West offers an alarming preview of a prospective future for mountain lions across their current range. Even in parts of California, where sport hunting is prohibited, immense freeways fragment small islands of protected land thereby genetically isolating small populations of mountain lions. These closed populations are beginning to manifest the same deleterious recessive genetic traits observed in endangered Florida panthers, and both populations – through secure from hunting – suffer high rates of mortality from vehicular collisions (Beier 1993; USFWS 2018; NPS 2020).
Despite their resiliency, there is nothing intrinsic about mountain lions in the West that precludes them from meeting the same fate as their extirpated eastern cousins. Only our game and land management strategies can ensure the long-term viability of mountain lion populations. The current “Least Concern” status of mountain lions should not encourage complacency, but should instead motivate proactivity to anticipate and address impending threats to the species. The present circumstances are not fixed, and only represent a slice of time amid marked demographic changes to the western US. In a sense, the resiliency of the mountain lion has afforded humans the luxury of applying what we have learned from the recent regional extirpation of eastern mountain lions to inform the future management of the species across their present range, an option lost to the numerous taxa of wild cats that went extinct within the last two centuries. From our lofty position as the dominant species on the planet, we have the knowledge, the ability, and the duty to ensure that the magnificent mountain lion thrives in our wild places in perpetuity.
Barry, M., Elbroch, M., Aiello-Lammens, E., Sarno, R., Seeyle, L., Kusler, A., Quigley, H., Grigione, M. (2018) Pumas as ecosystem engineers: ungulate carcasses support beetle assemblages in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. Oecologia 189, 577–586. doi: 10.1007/s00442-018-4315-z
Beier, P. (1993) Determining Minimum Habitat Areas and Habitat Corridors for Cougars. Conservation Biology 7(1), 94-108. doi: 10.1046/j.1523-1739.1993.07010094.x. (2009) A Focal Species for Conservation Planning. In M. Hornocker & S. Negri (Eds), Cougar: Conservation and Ecology (p. 177-189). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
Darwin, C.R. (1871) The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex. United Kingdom: John Murray. De Waal, Frans (2017) Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? New York: W. Norton & Company.
Elbroch, M. (2020) The Cougar Conundrum: Sharing the World with a Successful Predator. Washington, DC: Island Press.
Elbroch, L.M., Levy, M., Lubell, M., Quigley, H., and Caragiulo, A. (2017) Adaptive social strategies in a solitary carnivore. Science Advances 3(10). doi: 10.1126/sciadv.1701218.
Gilbert, S., Sivy, K., Pozzanghera, C., DuBour, A., Overduijn, K., Smith, M., Zhou, J., Little, J., Prugh, L. (2016) Socioeconomic Benefits of Large Carnivore Recolonization Through Reduced Wildlife‐Vehicle Collisions. Conservation Letters 10(4), 431-439. https://doi.org/10.1111/conl.12280.
Halsey, M. and White, R. (1998) Crime, Ecophilosophy and Environmental Harm. Theoretical Criminology 2(3), 345-371. doi:10.1177/1362480698002003003
Krumm, C., Conner, M., Thompson Hobbs, N., Hunter, D., and Miller, M. (2010) Mountain lions prey selectively on prion-infected mule deer. Biology Letters 6, 209-211. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2009.0742.
Ripple, W. and Beschta, R. (2006) Linking a cougar decline, trophic cascade, and catastrophic regime shift in Zion National Park. Biological Conservation 133(4), 397-408. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2006.07.002.
Shaw, H. (1989) Soul Among Lions: The Cougar as Peaceful Adversary. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. (2009) The Emerging Cougar Chronicle. In M. Hornocker & S. Negri (Eds), Cougar: Conservation and Ecology (p. 17-26). Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.
United States Fish and Wildlife Service (2018) Florida panther (n.d.). Retrieved October 7, 2021, from https://www.fws.gov/southeast/wildlife/mammals/florida-panther/.
Mountain Lions in Nebraska – The Golden Ghosts Return: A Conversation with Author Valerie Vierk
October 14, 2021 @ 1:00PM — 2:30PM Pacific Time (US & Canada) includes limited live Q&A afterwards.
Unfortunately, due to poor weather and technological issues, this event has been cancelled. We will send out details on rescheduling or alternate options soon.
Join us for a conversation with author Valerie Vierk as she discusses her book – “Mountain Lions in Nebraska – The Golden Ghosts Return” with the Mountain Lion Foundation’s own Jessica Janson.
About Valerie Vierk: Valerie Vierk is an author who writes poetry, fiction and non-fiction. A writer since her earliest years, in 2005 she published her first book, Gold Stars and Purple Hearts—the War Dead of the Ravenna Area.
Valerie’s sixth book, Mountain Lions in Nebraska—The Golden Ghosts Return, covers a brief history of mountain lions during the colonial times of the United States. It then weaves a tale of the lion in Nebraska during the early 1900s, moving into the “modern era” and the first documented killing of a cougar in the northwestern part of the state. The book tells the history of the often contentious issue of the big golden cats returning to their former homes in the Midwest after an absence of over a hundred years. Mountain Lions In Nebraska also gives brief histories of Nebraska’s neighboring states that allow trophy hunting of mountain lions–South Dakota, Colorado, and Wyoming. The book is richly illustrated with 90 photos, many taken by the author, plus political cartoons, maps, and charts.
Valerie’s fascination with mountain lions started in childhood. She believes it was prompted by her mother reading her and her brother Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House in the Big Woods. In this book, Pa Ingalls tells of a “black panther” chasing him and his horse through the woods. Garth Williams provided two sketches on the black panther and years later, upon looking at the book again, realized that was probably where her fascination for cougars began.
Additionally, Valerie is a life-long nature lover. She credits her late mother, Virginia, with introducing her to nature at a young age. Since 1974, Valerie has maintained a large bluebird trail to help the eastern bluebirds that are in need of housing since natural nesting sites are in short supply. In 2021, Valerie has a 140 box bluebird trail.
In 2012 she founded a non-profit titled “Holly Jean’s Hope Cat Spaying” to help the unowned cats of her little town of Ravenna, population 1,340. Years later this organization now feeds many cats each day in three locations.
Beloved Beasts: a Conversation with Author Michelle Nijhuis
In the late nineteenth century, humans came at long last to a devastating realization: their rapidly industrializing and globalizing societies were driving scores of animal species to extinction. In Beloved Beasts, acclaimed science journalist Michelle Nijhuis traces the history of the movement to protect and conserve other forms of life. From early battles to save charismatic species such as the American bison and bald eagle to today’s global effort to defend life on a larger scale, Nijhuis’s “spirited and engaging” account documents “the changes of heart that changed history” (Dan Cryer, Boston Globe).
As the destruction of other species continues and the effects of climate change wreak havoc on our world, Beloved Beasts charts the ways conservation is becoming a movement for the protection of all species, including our own.
About Michelle Nijhuis:
Michelle Nijhuis is the author of the new book Beloved Beasts: Fighting for Life in an Age of Extinction. She is a project editor for The Atlantic and a longtime contributing editor for High Country News, and her reporting has appeared in publications including National Geographic and the New York Times Magazine. After 15 years off the electrical grid in rural Colorado, she and her family now live in southwestern Washington state.
Of all the outdoor adventures I have experienced in more than four decades traversing Colorado, my solo encounter with a mountain lion last year on a trail a few miles south of Hot Sulphur Springs ranks at the top of the list.
The big cat and I locked eyes and exchanged pleasantries for several seconds before he (or she) graciously stepped off the trail and trotted nobly into the scrub. It was an exhilarating few moments with a rarely seen cougar, the proverbial “phantom of the forest.”
Unfortunately, my fond memory has since been overshadowed by the fear that the glorious wild animal that I encountered may well have been shot to death by now for no better reason than the gratification of a trophy hunter. Sadly, Colorado Parks and Wildlife allows annual cougar “harvests” even though surveys clearly show that most Coloradans oppose trophy hunting of mountain lions as well as other wild cats.
Trophy hunting of cougars serves no legitimate wildlife management purpose. Indeed, scientific studies show clearly that killing of cougars threatens not only the big cats but also has a negative trickle-down effect on non-targeted species in the wildlife chain.
Trophy killing usually entails unleashing dogs to chase down and tree an exhausted and terrified cat before shooting it to death. Whether such an action can be called “hunting” is doubtful, but there is no doubt that it cannot be called “sporting.” For this reason, surveys have shown, most legitimate hunters in Colorado oppose trophy hunting as well as trapping of wild cats.
In the next round of hunting review CPW should follow the science as well as ethical behavior and eliminate the senseless and destructive policy of allowing trophy killing of cougars. Indiscriminate killing has no place in any legitimate “management plan” of wild cat populations in Colorado and throughout the American West.