By Fran Pavley and Beth Pratt | Special to CalMatters
California has an opportunity to make history this week and give protections to imperiled mountain lions that live in some of the most urbanized areas in the world.
We appreciate these are challenging times, and the health and well-being of people are paramount in our minds. Yet it’s now or never for these at-risk mountain lions.
Scientists have shown that in some regions, mountain lions face an “extinction vortex” driven by roads and development that slice through their habitat and isolate populations. Inbreeding, vehicle strikes, rat poisons, depredation kills and other threats could cause some populations to go extinct within 50 years.
Just this past year we’ve seen at least seven cougars killed by humans in the Santa Monica Mountains, including a young male hit by a vehicle on Highway 101 recently. Each human-caused death pushes this fragile population closer to the brink of extinction.
As longtime advocates for California’s wildlife, we know our state wants to do better. We must, or we’ll lose these populations forever.
In June 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Mountain Lion Foundation petitioned our Fish and Game Commission to list Southern California and Central Coast cougars under the state’s Endangered Species Act.
The good news: Last month the Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended that the commission accept the petition and give these pumas protections as a “candidate” species.
On April 16 the wildlife commission will vote on whether to accept the department’s recommendation. Approval by the commissioners would grant these iconic big cats the same protections as “threatened” species while state officials conduct a year-long status review.
With protections under the state Endangered Species Act, local authorities would need to coordinate with state wildlife experts to ensure that approved development proposals adequately account for mountain lion connectivity.
State agencies would have a mandate to take steps to protect mountain lions. That would likely channel resources toward much-needed wildlife crossings, like the proposed Liberty Canyon crossing. And state officials would need to re-evaluate the use of super-toxic rat poisons in mountain lion habitat.
The public has shown overwhelming support for protecting our mountain lions. In 1990, voters passed Proposition 117, a statewide initiative that permanently banned trophy hunting cougars. But the science shows that current policies and land-use practices are not enough to sustain healthy populations.
The two of us have dedicated our careers to promoting Californians’ coexistence with the unique animals and plants we are so lucky to have as neighbors. We believe the commission will listen to the science and heed the public support for protecting our state’s last-remaining large carnivores.
When department director Chuck Bonham addressed the commission in February, he was very clear: “We’ve got to become the world leader in wildlife connectivity and wildlife corridors,” he said.
We agree. Let’s green our transportation infrastructure and make land-use planning decisions with wildlife movement in mind. Doing so will ensure that these big cats will inspire generations to come. It will also improve human safety on our roads. A report by the Road Ecology Center at UC Davis estimated that collisions with wildlife cost over $1 billion from 2015 to 2018 alone.
The first step is for the commission to vote “yes” and grant Southern California and Central Coast mountain lions candidacy protections. With that done, we can work together to address the many threats facing these iconic animals.
Former State Sen. Fran Pavley was chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee, FranPavley2020@gmail.com. Beth Pratt is the California regional executive director for the National Wildlife Federation, email@example.com. They wrote this commentary for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.
The author wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.