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.
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. "
Based on a lion-mortality density
model developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation,
related occurrences account for 94 percent of all
reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities in