Center for Biological Diversity asks state to consider mountain lion status

Idyllwild resident and wildlife biologist Jon King obtained this photograph from an automated camera he has located on his property near Tahquitz Drive on Tuesday, April 19, 2016. He had hoped to find evidence of mountain lions on the property eventually, but didn’t expect to photograph one within 10 days of installing the camera. Photo courtesy Jon King

In June, the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) and the Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF) submitted a petition to the California Fish and Game Commission to list the Southern and Central California mountain lion as either threatened or endangered. The Commission officially accepted the petition at its Aug. 7 meeting and extended the time by 30 days to Nov. 2 for the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to review the petition.
The petitioners argue that there are six mountain lion subpopulations between Central and Southern California. Collectively these subpopulations represent an evolutionarily significant wildlife species whose existence is threatened. Consequently, the California Endangered Species Act should protect them.
The Santa Ana and Santa Monica subpopulations are in danger of becoming extinct, according to the petition. However, the petition acknowledges that a reliable population count or estimate does not exist. The most recent was 4,000 to 6,000 adult mountain lions in 1984, 35 years ago.
CBD and the MLF suggest that the loss of habitat is the biggest current danger to the mountain lions. The construction of roads and new development isolate the populations and increase mortality.
In California, an estimated 100 mountain lions are killed every year by vehicle strikes. These in addition to depredation kills and intraspecific strife (including male aggression towards females and other males and infanticide) are the primary causes of mortality in the Central Coast and Southern California populations.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services (FWS) has recognized the threats to the eastern cougar and the Florida panther — mountain lion subspecies — under the federal Endangered Species Act for years.
Following a petition from the MLF in 1994, the FWS listed the California mountain lion population in the Santa Ana Mountains as endangered. This population occurs within most of California, southern Oregon, western Nevada, and northern Baja California, Mexico.
Stated in the petition, biologists estimate that the current mountain lion population size is insufficient to sustain its long-term survival, which is why protection of the current population is necessary.
Mountain lion adults are large, slender cats with short, muscular limbs and a long tail that is about one-third of the animal’s total length. Their hind limbs are longer than their fore limbs, which makes them highly adapted for jumping through rugged terrain or pouncing on their prey. Males generally weigh 120 to 140 pounds and females generally weigh between 80 and 100 pounds.
The petitioners argue that the persistence of mountain lions in the Central Coast and Southern California requires maintenance and restoration of connectivity between subpopulations and adequate habitat.
The commission anticipates that the DFW evaluation and recommendation relating to the petition will be received at the commission’s Dec. 11 to 12 meeting in Sacramento.
Interested parties may contact Esther Burkett at California Department of Fish and Wildlife, P.O. Box 944209, Sacramento, CA. 94244-2090, [email protected], or 916-445-3764 for information on the petition or to submit information to the department relating to the petitioned species. Submission of information via email is preferred.