Mountain lion field research and population estimates have come a long way in the last few decades. Most biologists now agree on an average lion population density of 1.7 lions per 100 sq km of habitat. In California (~185,000 sq km of habitat), that equates to approximately 3,100 resident mountain lions for the entire state. Marc Kenyon, CDFG's Bear and Lion Coordinator recently (2012) gave credence to that estimate when he stated that California's lion "population size is, in fact, smaller than it was 10 years ago." He attributed this decrease to dwindling lion habitat and the hunting policies in surrounding states. He estimates California's statewide lion population to be approximately 4,000 animals and dropping.
The state of
Since 1972, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) has claimed that there are approximately 4,000 to 6,000 lions residing in California. This rough estimate is based on what CDFG admits is only a "guesstimate," and is clearly too high and outdated.
CDFG originally based their crude population estimate on a series of studies which estimated lion population densities for different habitat types around the state. These density estimates varied from zero to 10 lions per 100 square miles, and were simply extrapolated to accommodate the total amount of available habitat type.
Mountain lion field research and population estimates have come a long way in the last few decades. Most biologists now agree on an average lion population density of 1.7 lions per 100 sq km of habitat. In California (~185,000 sq km of habitat), that equates to approximately 3,100 resident mountain lions for the entire state.
Marc Kenyon, CDFG's Bear and Lion Coordinator recently (2012) gave credence to that estimate when he stated that California's lion "population size is, in fact, smaller than it was 10 years ago." He attributed this decrease to dwindling lion habitat and the hunting policies in surrounding states. He estimates California's statewide lion population to be approximately 4,000 animals and dropping.
Unfortunately, statewide mountain lion population estimates cannot properly indicate the health of the species. According to noted lion researcher Dr. Rick Hopkins, "It is important to keep in mind that no western state, including California, supports one cougar population. There are several populations in the state that react to changes in their environment independent of one another. It is unrealistic to assume that a statewide population of any species, let alone the cougar, is responding in a similar fashion at the same time. For example, the intense development pressure that the population of cougars is experiencing in Orange County is in no way relevant to what is happening in Humboldt County."
Historically, mountain lions were
heavily persecuted in
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
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
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,
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.
Since 1907 (the first year data is
available) an estimated 15,951 mountain lions have
been killed by humans in
Most of these deaths (12,462) occurred prior to 1963 while mountain lions were considered a bountied predator.
Bounty Period 1907-1963
1971-72 Hunting Period
Depredation Kills 1964-1990
Depredation Kills 1991-2013
Bighorn Sheep Program 1999-2010
Public Safety Kills 1990-2013
Other / Unspecified
Since the passage of Proposition 117, it is estimated that 2,542 mountain lions have been killed in California as a result of issued Depredation Permits, and 144 lions killed for public safety reasons.
Based on a lion-mortality density
model developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation,
related occurrences account for 94 percent of all
reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities in
Last Update: April 2014