LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The California Fish and Game Commission Thursday unanimously voted to move forward with a process that would culminate with declaring mountain lions that roam Southern California and the Central Coast as an endangered species.

P-47, a mountain lion who lived in the Santa Monica Mountains. He was found dead on March 21, 2019. He is believed to have died in the Woolsey Fire. (National Park Service)

The commission voted 5-0 to declare mountain lions as possible candidates to be placed under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Thursday’s vote is coming in response to a petition that was brought in June of 2019 from the Center for Biological Diversity.

After reviewing the petition, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife announced in February that it was recommending that mountain lions be protected under CESA.

There is “sufficient scientific information available at this time” that listing the species “may be warranted,” a spokesman for the department said at the time.

The commission vote has now triggered a 12-month review process by CDFW to determine if the protections for mountain lions will become law.

During the review process, however, those CESA protections for the mountain lions will be fully enforced, the Center for Biological Diversity reported.

“This is a historic moment for California’s big cats and rich biodiversity,” Center biologist Tiffany Yap, and the primary author of the petition, said in a statement Thursday. “These ecosystem engineers face huge threats that could wipe out key populations. But with state protections, we can start reversing course to save our mountain lions. Wildlife officials deserve a big round of applause for moving to protect these amazing animals.”

RELATED: Mountain Lion, Suspected Of Attacks On Livestock, First To Be Killed Under State ‘Three-Strike’ Policy

Mountain lion populations in Southern California have become increasingly threatened by residential development, habitat loss, wildfires, rat poisons, inbreeding and isolation.

Researchers say mountain lion populations in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains could go extinct within the next 50 years. To help combat this, the California Department of Transportation is working on a plan to build an $87 million wildlife crossing along the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills.

The National Park Service has been studying and tracking mountain lion movement in the Santa Monica Mountains since 2002.

As of November of 2019, 21 mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains have been struck and killed by vehicles.

23 of 24 local mountain lions tested in the Santa Monica Mountains have showed the presence of rat poison in their systems, NPS reports. Five of those have died of the poison.

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