Half Dome in California's Yosemite National Park
 
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HISTORY OF LIONS IN CALIFORNIA

Help change depredation policies to protect mountain lions in California


Historically, mountain lions were heavily persecuted in California. Classified as a "bountied predator" from 1907 to 1963, a record 12,462 mountain lions were killed (more than any other state) and turned in for the bounty. These laws were repealed in the 60s, they were briefly hunted, and then in the 90s they became protected. Mountain lions have come a long way in the last few decades. Read on to find out about this exciting history of mountain lions in California.

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The History of Lions in California

Genetic research indicates that the common ancestor of today's Leopardus, Lynx, Puma, Prionailurus, and Felis lineages migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas approximately 8 to 8.5 million years ago.

Petroglyph in California
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What we know as a cougar today became recognizable as a distinct species about 400,000 years ago, and inhabited nearly all of the Americas for hundreds of thousands of years, alongside the giant sloth, the mammoth, the dire wolf and the sabre-toothed lion.

During the Pleistocene ice ages, conditions appear to have become too cold for cougar populations to survive, and paleotologists believe that at the end of the last ice age, the big cats repopulated North America from a southern refugium. Cougars have inhabited California, alongside humans, for more than 40,000 years.

Native people memorialized the cougar in rock carvings, totems, in story and in song. As European settlement expanded in the 1840's, cougar persecution and riding the landscape of dangerous wildlife became more common.

Europoean Settlement in California

Historically, mountain lions were heavily persecuted in California. Classified as a "bountied predator" from 1907 to 1963, a record 12,462 mountain lions were killed (more than any other state) and turned in for the bounty. The bounty on California's mountain lions was repealed in 1963, and the species was reclassified as a "non-protected mammal."

In 1969, the state legislature again reclassified mountain lions as a "game mammal." This action was undertaken to control supposed livestock damage and to "manage" mountain lions through regulated hunting.



In 1971 and 1972 California held its only regulated lion-hunting seasons, during which time 118 mountain lions were killed for sport.

In 1971, the state legislature passed new legislation, signed by then governor, Ronald Reagan which placed a moratorium on the sport hunting of mountain lions. The lion hunting moratorium, which started on March 1, 1972, was maintained until 1986 at which time the regulated hunting of mountain lions was once again authorized. Despite this authorization, political pressure from individual citizens and conservation organizations such as the Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF) kept lions from being hunted for sport in California over the next four years.

In 1990, a coalition of conservation organizations, including MLF, placed Proposition 117 — commonly known as the "mountain lion initiative" — on the statewide ballot. This proposition, the first to have been placed solely with signatures collected by volunteers in California, passed on June 5, 1990 with 52.42 percent of the vote. Officially known as the California Wildlife Protection Act, Proposition 117 reclassified mountain lions in California as a "specially protected mammal," permanently banned the sport hunting of lions in the state, and allocated $30 million to be spent annually for 30 years on the acquisition of critical habitat for mountain lions, deer, oak woodlands, endangered species, riparian habitat, and other wildlife.

In 1996, trophy-hunting proponents got the state legislature to place Proposition 197 on the March primary ballot. Drafted in part by the Safari Club, this initiative was presented to voters under the guise of "public safety" concerns in an effort to overturn the ban on killing mountain lions for recreational purposes. Proposition 197 was overwhelmingly rejected by 58.12 percent of California's voters.

 

Since the 1996 failure to repeal the State's lion-hunting ban, there have been numerous unsuccessful attempts by lawmakers to introduce legislation that would overturn Proposition 117's lion-hunting restrictions.

 

At this time, California has no formal management plan for mountain lions. State law requires CDFG to issue a depredation permit against any offending lion, if a resident requests one and there is proof that the mountain lion has preyed on or threatened domestic animals or private property. Mountain lions can also be killed at any time if deemed a threat to the public's safety.


On September 6, 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 132 into law. This groundbreaking legislation (effective January 1, 2014), protects lions that accidentally wander into human-populated areas. Law Enforcement and Wildlife Officers can only kill a lion if it is posing an imminent threat to human life: exhibiting aggressive behavior towards a person that is not due to the presence of first responders.

The new law (F&G Code 4801.5) also allows CDFW to partner with qualified individuals, educational institutions, government agencies, or nongovernmental organizations to implement nonlethal procedures on a mountain lion which include rescue and rehabilitation.


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