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


Help change policies to protect mountain lions in California.

Mountain lion field and genetic research 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 fewer than 3,145 resident mountain lions for the entire state. The State's former lion biologist, 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, loss of connections between habitat patches, and hunting policies in surrounding states. The threats to mountain lions will not decrease as the human population continues to rise.

  • 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 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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Mountain lion law in California.

Lions were given the status of specially protected mammal under Proposition 117, a citizen led initiative passed in 1990. In 2013 and 2017, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife set forth policies to guide treatment of mountain lions in public safety and depredation situations. On June 25, 2019, the Mountain Lion Foundation and the Center for Biological Diversity filed a petition to list the mountain lion as a threatened or endangered species under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA)

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The history of lions in the state.

Classified as a "bountied predator" from 1907 to 1963, a record 12,462 mountain lions were killed under bounty (more than any other state.) While bounties were repealed in the 60's, lions were briefly hunted, and then in the 90's Proposition 117 made mountain lions a specially protected mammal, specifically outlawing sport hunting. 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 parts of the southeastern deserts.

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The science of lions in the state.

There are more mountain lion field research projects going on in California than ever before, and the projects are covering a larger geographic area. Equally important, broad genetic and population studies are providing an overview of mountain lion genetics and population viability. Researchers are also working on standardized protocols to achieve larger sample sizes and make better geographical comparisons.

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Take action for lions.

The Mountain Lion Foundation works constantly to improve mountain lion policy in the state legislature, through the Fish and Game Commission, county by county, in cities, towns and neighborhoods. We collaborate closely with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, which has established the most science-based lion conservation policy in the country. But there is always more to do.

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