The mountain lions of southern California are hemmed in on all sides. In one place a 10-lane highway divides mountain lion habitat. All that development is particularly difficult on a species with such a large home range.
All those highways and housing developments are putting a crimp in the mountain lions of the region’s gene pool, says a recent paper in PLoS ONE by University of California, Davis scientists. The mountain lions of the Santa Ana Mountains are no longer on speaking terms with the mountain lions of the Santa Monica Mountains. Within those population segments, genetic diversity is low.
I just covered this issue back in January (where the solution was a wildlife crossing) and wasn’t sure it was worth writing about again, but a the UC Davis press release and a Los Angeles Times article pointed out that we’ve seen this phenomenon of mountain lions hemmed in by a growing human population before — in the Florida panther. Other Puma populations may not be as distinctive as the Florida panther, but we are almost certainly sure to see this again. If there is a solution, it is a story worth following.
Photo/map: This map identifies puma captures in the Santa Ana Mountains and eastern Peninsular ranges of southern California. The inset photo is of a mountain lion keeping watch while her juvenile cubs feed. Courtesy: UC Davis/The Nature Conservancy
There is a small population of mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains, just northeast of Los Angeles. The problem is, an article in the LA Times says, the population is hemmed in by highways, agricultural fields and the ocean, and is too small to be self-sustaining. Wandering male mountain lions typically die in traffic before reaching the enclave, causing inbreeding.
The solution, say some area conservationists, is a highway overpass. Twice before, funding for a wildlife tunnel under the roadways was rejected. The overpass would cost a lot more. The next step is funding from a local conservation group for the California Department of Transportation to study the overpass option.
When it comes to mountain lions making use of suburban habitats, there is no difference between males and females, or resident and transient animals, but sub-adult mountain lions were more likely to be found in the suburbs, a study published in the Journal of Mammalogy found. The study was conducted in western Washington State.
The study suggests targeting problem individual mountain lions, maintaining older age structures and other methods to decrease contact between humans and mountain lions.
Wolves seem to be knocking back the mountain lion population in Wyoming’s Teton Mountains, and they seem to be targeting mountain lion kittens, says Mark Elbroch, a researcher with the Teton Cougar Project in an article in the Jackson Hole News & Guide. It’s competition, not predation, the article states.
Three recent trail camera photos of cougars in the Upper Peninsula have been verified by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
Two of the photos, both of a cougar with a radio collar, were taken in October in Menominee County – one near Cedar River and one near Menominee just north of the Wisconsin border. The third photo was taken in northern Marquette County in November. The cougar in the Marquette County photo is not wearing a radio collar.
The DNR does not place radio collars on cougars; North Dakota and South Dakota are the nearest states where wildlife researchers have placed radio collars on cougars to track their movement. The DNR has not yet been able to determine the origin of the radio-collared cougar that is in Michigan.
Cougars are otherwise known as mountain lions, Puma concolor to scientists.