Half Dome in California's Yosemite National Park
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Help change policies to protect mountain lions in California

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 Game, UC Santa Cruz, National Park Service, Audubon Canyon Ranch, UC Davis, East Bay Regional Parks, and Felidae.

You can find descriptions of the various projects below.

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California Lion Science

Scientific Research


    Legislation passed in 2012 requires the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to notify the public at least 30 days prior to the issuance of a Scientific Collecting Permit (SCP) to qualified researchers desiring to conduct research on mountain lions.

    The legislation is described in Section 4810 of the Fish and Game Code.

    Summaries of proposed research projects are listed below. Copies of the Draft SCP, Final SCP, annual report, and final report are available upon request to the CDFW. Please contact:

    California Department of Fish and Wildlife
    Wildlife Branch- MOUNTAIN LION SCP
    1812 Ninth Street
    Sacramento, CA 95811

    Visit CDFW's Mountain Lion Page for more information.


    Statewide California Mountain Lion Study
    Conducted by California Department of Fish & Wildlife

    The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) has established a mountain lion (Puma concolor) conservation program to coordinate mountain lion research and population monitoring, and to inform wildlife management in general across the state. In particular, the immediate focus of this program is to conduct a population inventory of mountain lions across the state. CDFW is attempting to accomplish this population inventory by completing a series of goals which build upon one another and work in concert to reach a final population inventory. These goals include: 1) assessing mountain lion genetics across the state and determine existence and geographic extent of panmictic populations; 2) estimating habitat use of mountain lions in each panmictic population; and 3) developing baseline density estimates and tools for long-term monitoring of mountain lion density in each panmictic population. The mountain lion conservation program is collaborating with university researchers, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other government agencies to accomplish the above. Most of these objectives are being met through assessing and compiling existing data, as well as initiating data collection efforts to fill in data gaps. All of the above will allow for development of a comprehensive mountain lion resource assessment program.

    Santa Monica National Recreation Area Mountain Lion Study
    Conducted by the National Park Service

    Los Angeles is one of only two megacities in the world (the other is Mumbai) that have big cats living within the city limits. In a place more often associated with freeways and traffic, the fact that the city can support such large-ranging animals is a testament to the quality of open space and the habitat connectivity that still remains. The National Park Service has been studying how mountain lions survive in an increasingly fragmented and urbanized landscape since 2002. Researchers have monitored more than 70 mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains.

    Click here to learn more about this project.

    Hoopa Mountain Lion Project
    Collaboration between the Hoopa Wildlife Department and Integral Ecology Research Center (IERC)

    Effective Date: December 27, 2017

    Integral Ecology Research Center (IERC) is collaborating with the Hoopa Tribe to lead an investigation in mountain lion ecology and threats from trespass marijuana cultivation within their habitats. This project will assist in better understanding contaminant threats to mountain lions and other top carnivores from prey resources affected by the toxicants used at cultivation sites. IERC and Hoopa will be investigating not only the health of these elusive apex predators but also the health and condition of the prey species they are consuming.

    Further development has the potential to increase conflicts with humans, increase puma mortality rates, and to isolate segments of the population making them no longer viable, with potentially negative impacts on ecological functions. The project will provide information needed to ensure the future of pumas in this region, and to guide puma management in areas with increasing human presence.

    Click here to learn more about this project.

    Modoc Study
    Conducted by The Institute for Wildlife Studies (IWS)
    Partners: UC Davis Wildlife Health Center and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

    Effective Date: December 27, 2017

    In late 2015 we initiated a study to examine the movements and food habits of mountain lions in northeastern California. As part of our ongoing study of the ecology of pronghorn in that region of California, we discovered that a high percentage of the mortality of adult pronghorn was caused by predation by mountain lions. Because pronghorn usually occupy open sagebrush steppe habitat, biologists were surprised to learn that an ambush hunter like mountain lions could successfully prey upon pronghorn.

    It is thought that the changing vegetation structure on the Modoc Plateau (Modoc and Lassen Counties) may be contributing to the increased ability of mountain lions to prey upon pronghorn. Woodland habitat, made up primarily by encroaching juniper forest, has decreased the more open habitat historically characteristic of the plateau, and perhaps provided greater opportunities for mountain lions to get close enough to pronghorn to make successful attacks.

    Further, mountain lions have never been studied in the northeastern part of the state and little is known of their habits in that region. As part of this investigation, we will be trapping lions and placing GPS satellite collars on them to get detailed data on their movements. We will use these data to locate sites where there are likely to have made kills of prey species, and then we will investigate these kill sites to determine the species, sex and age of the prey species. We will also use locations of the sites to examine how mountain lions may be using the interface between the encroaching juniper woodland and the sagebrush habitat.

    This investigation is being done in cooperation with the UC Davis Wildlife Health Center and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    Click here to learn more about this project.

    Mountain Lions in the Kings River Area of the Sierra National Forest

    Effective Date: October 7, 2013

    Map showing location of the Kings River Sierra Mountains Study Area on California.

    Over the past 5 years, research on fisher (Pekania pennanti) ecology in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has identified mountain lion predation as a primary source of mortality for fishers, accounting for 36% of all mortality and 50% of all predation. Specifically, predation on adult female fishers during the denning season appears to be a potential limiting factor to population expansion. What is unknown is whether current lion predation rates on fishers are similar to historical rates, or whether changes in predator densities, forest structure, fire frequency, or human activity have altered the balance between the two native species.

    In the Kings River area of the Sierra National Forest, fisher monitoring, including trapping, telemetry, and scat detector dog surveys, has been ongoing since 2007, with current funding available through 2013. In 2010, the Sierra National Forest initiated a multi-stakeholder project (Dinkey Collaborative) charged with designing and implementing fuel reduction projects in the same area. Discussions are currently underway to extend the fisher monitoring program through 2018 in order to capitalize on the before-after/control-impact research opportunity: monitoring the impacts of fuel treatment activities on fisher survival, reproduction, and habitat use.

    We propose to capture, collar, and monitor lions within the two primary watersheds of the Kings River area, concurrent in space and time with both the fisher monitoring program and the fuel reduction program. Primary objectives would be 1) to concurrently document fisher and lion movement patterns, and to identify areas or habitats where interactions were likely, 2) to generate a 'risk-based' habitat model for fishers to quantify the likeliness of encountering a mountain lion, 3) to better understand how vegetation and fuel management by the USFS can mitigate or enhance this risk, and 4) to quantify predation rates by lions on numerous prey species including ungulates and mesocarnivores.

    Secondary objectives include 1) overlapping the work described above with ongoing bobcat (Lynx rufus) monitoring in the area led by G. Wengert to better understand carnivore community interactions and how these interactions are impacted by vegetation management, 2) evaluate the exposure of mountain lions to rodenticides, insecticides, and other toxins currently being found in fishers and presumed to come from illegal marijuana cultivation sites, and 3) conduct a concurrent camera trapping grid to validate a non-invasive approach to estimating lion abundance currently being developed in Wyoming. Sufficient funding and in-kind contribution have been secured to address the first three primary objectives. Funding is currently being sought to address the remaining objectives.

    Santa Cruz Puma Project

    Effective Date: October 4, 2013

    Map showing location of the Santa Cruz Mountains Study Area on California.

    This study will contribute to the knowledge of natural wildlife ecosystems by evaluating the relationship between landscape features, energetic demand, physiological capabilities, and foraging strategies in the puma. For the first time, field energetic costs of a large carnivorous felid will be measured and related to the behavior and ecology of individuals. We will use a laboratory-to-field approach to develop, calibrate and test a collar, the ANIMA (Accelerometer Network Integrator for Mobil Animals) that can be used to assess continuous time-energy budgets, movement patterns, behavioral diaries, and daily energetic costs of puma.

    Habitat loss and fragmentation are well known to cause species declines and extinctions (Pimm et al. 1995, Fahrig 2003). Fragmentation has also been shown to influence the stability of predator-prey interactions (Levin 1976, Hastings 1977, Hanski and Ranta 1983), yet experimental tests are based largely on small scale experiments using insects (e.g., Kareiva 1987). While it is generally known that as habitat patch size declines, large predators become locally extinct resulting in meso-predator release (Crooks and Soule 1999), the degree to which fragmentation influences predator energy costs and ecological impacts is not well understood. A mechanistic theory that can predict, not just whether a species can persist or not, but also the extent to which its ecological impact is attenuated, magnified or otherwise altered as fragmentation increases is needed.

    Human development in and near open space in the United States and internationally is increasingly fragmenting wilderness areas causing declines and local extinctions of top predators. Developing an understanding of the physiological demands and ecology of large predators in fragmented habitats will thus be crucial to preserving these species and their impacts on ecosystem processes. Yet most studies of large predators are conducted in large national or otherwise protected parks. By conducting our study on pumas in a highly fragmented area of both public and private lands in the San Francisco Bay Area, our proposed project will support the sustainability and survival of puma populations and healthy ecosystems.

    Click here to learn more about this project.

    Southern California Mountain Lion Study

    Effective Date: January 2013 —— permit renewed 2015

    Map showing location of the Santa Ana Mountains Study Area on California.

    Mountain lions in California are important indicators of ecosystem health and connectivity, especially in southern California where the landscape is highly fragmented by previous and ongoing / planned human development. The Wildlife Health Center, a division of the One Health Institute of the School of Veterinary Medicine at U.C. Davis, has been studying mountain lion ecology, landscape use and population connections, sources of mortality, genetics, disease, toxin exposure, interactions with prey, and interactions with humans and domestic animals in southern California since late 2000. During that time, the study team and our large number of collaborators have contributed significantly to knowledge about mountain lions, and that information has been utilized to benefit mountain lions, other wildlife, humans, and domestic animals in a variety of ways.

    Due to the ongoing nature of the research we are conducting, the requests we have received from collaborators, public agencies, and others for additional data from mountain lions in our study area (Figure 1), and several new research questions that have evolved from our previous work, we are requesting a permit to continue our mountain lion capture, sampling, and GPS-collaring efforts. The focus of the research will be to continue to expand knowledge regarding mountain lion disease and toxin exposure, genetics, and interactions with wildlife prey species, humans, and domestic animals. Additionally, we will assess mountain lion use of specific southern California conserved lands, linkages, and road crossings in order to help guide conservation and road planning decisions.

    We have always strived to set the standard for best practices when capturing mountain lions for research, and to that end we will be utilizing only constantly monitored cage traps for all captures conducted under this permit, and an experienced wildlife veterinarian will be administering and monitoring all anesthetics and directing all capture activities. Samples from all mountain lions captured, and reports and publications relating to the research will be forwarded to the California Department of Fish and Game.

    Click here to learn more about this project.

    Sonoma Mountain Lion Project

    Audobon Canyon Ranch

    Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR) is spearheading a mountain lion (Puma concolor) research and education project in California's San Francisco North Bay Region. These iconic and charismatic predators are an ecological keystone species, their survival indicating whether habitats are intact and functioning. The SF Bay Area, with its increasing human population in an ever-changing matrix of urban, rural, and open space-uses, presents a challenge for mountain lion conservation. As such, our project offers a unique environment in which to ensure that humans and mountain lions can coexist in this complex fragmented landscape. ACR protects over 5000 acres of natural habitat in this region and has been collaborating with partner organizations to maximize the wildlife connectivity. Although individual mountain lions have been documented through ACR's remote camera surveys, little is known about how they navigate the landscape. The population of mountain lions has yet to be enumerated and insufficient information pertaining to their local diet and habitat needs further complicates land management decisions. This project will use habitat selection models to model likely core habitat and corridors for lions in our study area then validate those models with new GPS data from lions we will collar. Furthermore, there is a lack of public awareness showing how intact wildlife habitat provides important ecosystem services for humans as well, such as clean air and water. These data will lead to a better understanding of ecological interactions and inform management strategies. The Project is part of a larger "Bay Area Research Cooperative" in which relevant data will be shared with two other NGOs and with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Mountain Lion Conservation Program. This cooperative approach leverages the expertise of multiple, well-respected researchers, increasing conservation impact, expanding the scope of public awareness and streamlining costs. The project builds on ACR's successful model of community-based conservation and education which has been connecting people with nature for over 50 years. With over 800 trained volunteers supporting its education, stewardship, and research programs, ACR has a cadre of "conservation ambassadors" with deep ties to surrounding communities. The education and outreach components of the project will broaden awareness, transform attitudes towards mountain lions, and contribute to long-term conservation of habitat for mountain lions, their prey and many other species.

    Click here to learn more about this project.

    Siskiyou Deer and Mountain Lion Research Project

    University of California, Santa Cruz

    This study will increase scientific knowledge of the effects of habitat fragmentation on mountain lion physiology, behavior, movement and ecosystem impacts in the Central Coast of California. Quality scientific data on fragmentation impacts on top predators will support both local and international efforts to maintain habitat connectivity. The research will also produce a wildlife collar, the ANIMA (Accelerometer Network Integrator for Mobil Animals), which will revolutionize the science of wildlife conservation by allowing researchers and mangers to continuously measure the energetics, behavior and movement of terrestrial mammals in relation to habitat variables such as human development.

    Click here to learn more about this project.