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

California's mountain lion populations have 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 the current status of mountain lion populations in California.

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California Lion Status and Population

Mountain Lion Status in California

Legal status:

    • 1990: voters passed Proposition 117, which classified mountain lions as a specially protected mammal and permanently banned lion hunting in the state.
    • 2014: SB 132 became law, requiring law enforcement to resolve conflicts using nonlethal measures, resorting to lethal measures only when there's imminent danger.
    • April 2020: CDFW Commission voted 5-0 to advance the mountain lion's candidacy for listing under the Endangered Species Act. The potential listing covers subpopulations of lions ranging from the CA-Mexico border and up the central coast to San Francisco.
    • September 2020: AB 1788 became law, imposing a moratorium on certain rodenticides known to kill lions and other wildlife through secondary exposure.

Estimated population: 4,000 - 6,000 (likely an overestimation)

Annual trophy kills: 0

On June 25, 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and Mountain Lion Foundation formally petitioned the California Fish and Game Commission to protect mountain lions under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). The petition is seeking protections for gravely imperiled cougar populations in Southern California and on the Central Coast, including the Eastern Peninsular Range, Santa Ana Mountains, San Bernardino Mountains, San Gabriel Mountains, Santa Monica Mountains, and north along the coast to the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Some Southern California lion populations could disappear in little more than a decade, according to a March 2019 study . Researchers at UC Davis, UCLA, and with the National Park Service predicted that if inbreeding depression occurs, the Santa Ana population could go extinct within 12 years and the Santa Monica population within 15.

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 status. In California (~185,000 sq km of status), that equates to approximately 3,100 resident mountain lions for the entire state.

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.

In 2012, Marc Kenyon, CDFW's former Bear and Lion Coordinator, gave credence to that estimate 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 status and the hunting policies in surrounding states. He estimated that California's statewide lion population is be approximately 4,000 animals and dropping.

Unfortunately, statewide mountain lion population estimates cannot properly indicate the health of the species. According to noted lion researcher Dr. Rick Hopkins, " It is important to keep in mind that no western state, including California, supports one cougar population. There are several populations in the state that react to changes in their environment independent of one another. It is unrealistic to assume that a statewide population of any species, let alone the cougar, is responding in a similar fashion at the same time. For example, the intense development pressure that the population of cougars is experiencing in Orange County is in no way relevant to what is happening in Humboldt County. "

California's Killing Fields

Based on a lion-mortality density model developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation, California averages 0.16 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. The eleven western state average is 0.65. Using MLF's mortality ranking system, California ranks 11th (least deadly) amongst the 11 states studied by MLF in reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities.


Depredation related occurrences account for 94 percent of all reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities in California. Notably, "hobby-farm" animals, such as sheep and goats, are currently the most common type of domestic animal involved in human-lion conflicts. According to one CDFW Wildlife Officer, who has had to kill numerous lions on depredation permits, the number of lions killed in California could be reduced by at least 50 percent if people properly protected their domestic animals.

Graph of human-caused mountain lion mortality in California.

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