Extinction looms for southern California’s mountain lions

A new study presents a choice: Allow the big cats to vanish in 50 years — or build modest wildlife corridors.

 

This article was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Two populations of mountain lions in Southern California face a significant threat of extinction if actions aren’t taken to protect their environment and safeguard animal transit routes through increasingly developed areas, a new study warns.

While the species isn’t currently in danger of statewide extinction, the big cats in the Santa Ana and Santa Monica Mountains (a total of about 42 animals) have as much as a 21 percent chance of vanishing in the next 50 years, according to the study published in the journal Ecological Applications.

An uncollared female mountain lion in the Verdugo Mountains in southern California rubs her cheek against a log. Later, adult male P-41 visited this same location and took notice of the scent.

The mountain lions face increasing dangers from highway accidents, as well as death by rat poison, wildfires and shooting if an animal attack pets or livestock. But the biggest danger over the long term is a dwindling genetic pool as their territories are carved up and movements blocked by roads and development, the study warns. Yet judicious changes, particularly concerning protections of travel routes, could save the animals. 

The “optimistic message” in the model presented in the study reveals that “these populations can persist with relatively modest increases in landscape connectivity,” lead author John Benson of the University of Nebraska said in a statement. “If we can maintain healthy populations of mountain lions – a species that roams widely and requires such large spaces – in greater Los Angeles, that bodes well for our ability to conserve large carnivores anywhere.

Researchers, including from the University of California at Los Angeles, UC Davis and the National Park Service, analyzed DNA samples and 15 years of data from both areas to create population viability models to predict extinction based on genetic and environmental risk factors. The “greatest long-term threat to both populations appears to be the rapid loss of genetic diversity associated with their isolation from mountain lions in surrounding areas,” the study concludes. But even a single newcomer into either group could increase chances of long-term survival, the researchers say. 

Some wildlife officials are considering trucking animals across highways so they can mate. But the study suggests a system of protected wildlife corridors would be a more efficient way to protect the cats as well as other animals.

Earlier this month, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors passed a groundbreaking new law protecting “wildlife corridors” and other land use restrictions to safeguard movement of the animals through the region. The wildlife passages are now part of the zoning law in the area next to Los Angeles County.

“We urgently need state-led action to build wildlife crossings and improve habitat connectivity,” J.P. Rose, attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity, told HuffPost. “Southern California’s mountain lions have out-survived American cheetahs and saber-toothed cats, but they are no match for the network of freeways and sprawl we have built through their habitat. But we can prevent their extinction by quickly investing in wildlife crossings.”

Wildlife advocates are pushing for the $60 million Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing over Highway 101 that would connect the Santa Monica Mountains to the Sierra Madre Mountain Range. Corridor construction could begin as early as 2022 if money is available. 

Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.

High Country News Classifieds
  • COPPER STAIN: ASARCO'S LEGACY IN EL PASO
    Tales from scores of ex-employees unearth the human costs of an economy that runs on copper.
  • FEATURES DIRECTOR - HIGH COUNTRY NEWS
    High Country News, an award-winning news organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Features Director to join our editorial...
  • GENERAL MANAGER
    The Board of UYWCD seeks a new GM to manage operations & to implement our robust strategic plan. Details at www.upperyampawater.com. EOE
  • IN TUCSON, FOR SALE: A BEAUTIFUL, CLASSIC MID-CENTURY MODERN HOME
    designed by architect David Swanson in 1966. Located a block from Saguaro National Forest, yet minutes to Downtown and the UofA campus, 3706 sqft, 6...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of the San Juans is seeking a new leader guide our efforts to protect and restore the San Juan Islands and the Salish...
  • 80 ACRES
    straddles North Platte Fishery, Wyoming. Legal access 2 miles off 1-80. Call 720-440-7633.
  • DIRECTOR OF PRODUCT AND MARKETING
    High Country News seeks a Director of Product and Marketing to join our senior team during an exciting chapter of innovation and growth. This individual...
  • OWN A THRIVING MOUNTAIN GUIDE SERVICE.
    Eastern Sierra guide service for sale to person with vision & expertise to take it onwards. Since 1995 with USFS & NPS permits. Ideal for...
  • IMPROVED LOT
    Private road, hillside, views. Well, pad, septic, 99 sq.ft. hut. Dryland permaculture orchard. Wildlife. San Diego--long growing season
  • UNIQUE INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITY
    Profitable off-the-grid business located 2 miles from Glacier National Park. Owner has 6 years operating experience. Seeking investor or partner for business expansion and enhancement....
  • REMOTE SITKA ALASKA FLOAT HOUSE VACATION RENTAL
    Vacation rental located in calm protected waters 8 miles from Sitka, AK via boat with opportunities to fish and view wildlife. Skiff rental also available.
  • EXPERT LAND STEWART
    Available for site conservator, property manager. View resume at http://skills.ojadigital.net.
  • CONSERVATIONIST? IRRIGABLE LAND?
    Stellar seed-saving NGO is available to serious partner. Package must include financial support. Details: http://seeds.ojaidigital.net.
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...