Mountain Lions in California

adult mountain lion profile
mountain lion in snow
mountain lion resting
mountain lion walking
lion kitten on snow

Introduction

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is tasked with ensuring viable mountain lion (Puma concolor) populations persist throughout the state where suitable habitat and other environmental conditions allow. Mountain lions occur across much of the state and bring about a wide range of complex conservation and management challenges. In 2014, the mountain lion conservation program was established to coordinate scientific research and population monitoring to inform big game management, species management plans and habitat conservation and protection. The program seeks to develop research and improve understanding in the areas of 1) connectivity and gene flow; 2) human-mountain lion interactions; and 3) mountain lion-prey interactions. Learn more!

Conservation and Management

The Department strives to conserve mountain lion populations for their ecological and intrinsic values. To meet this goal, staff and our partners work to:

  • Maintain genetically diverse and demographically viable populations;
  • Minimize conflicts between mountain lions and humans (e.g., public safety events, property damage);
  • Identify and protect important habitats; and
  • Improve public awareness of mountain lions; and
  • Identify and research emerging issues that threaten mountain lion populations or the habitats upon which they depend.

Research indicates a lack of genetic diversity in specific areas of California (Ernest et al. 2014) as a result of human population growth and barriers that restrict connectivity with other mountain lion populations. The Department is pursuing many actions toward managing mountain lions, including coordination with federal, state, and non- governmental organization partners on projects to improve habitat connectivity, and to increase public outreach and education.

In July 2019, the Fish and Game Commission was petitioned to list mountain lions as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) within a proposed evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) located in Southern California and the central coast of California. In April 2020, the Commission found that listing of this ESU may be warranted and designated mountain lion within the ESU as a candidate species. As a result, CDFW is now completing a 12-month status review of mountain lions within the proposed ESU. At the end of the review, CDFW will make its recommendation on listing to the Commission. Under CESA, species classified as a candidate species are afforded the same protection as listed species. As a result, mountain lions in this proposed ESU are CESA-protected during the review period.

Science and Research

The Department conducts statewide research for the conservation and management of mountain lions in California.

Mountain Lion Research Permits

CDFW is responsible for permitting and overseeing all mountain lion research in the State. Qualified individuals, educational institutions, governmental agencies or nongovernmental organizations may apply for a Scientific Collecting Permit (SCP) to conduct this research. The Department may authorize permitholders to pursue, capture, temporarily possess, temporarily injure, mark, attach to or surgically implant monitoring or recognition devices in, provide veterinary care to, and transport, mountain lions, or any part or product of a mountain lion.

Prospective researchers must submit a research proposal using a clear, bulleted format to facilitate the expeditious processing of the SCP request. Learn more!

  1. Executive Summary;
  2. Need Statement;
  3. Goals;
  4. Time-oriented Objectives;
  5. Study Area (include a map if applicable)
  6. Methods;
  7. List of Personnel that details roles and responsibilities; and
  8. Statement of how your project complies with the following criteria:
    • Contribute to the knowledge of natural wildlife ecosystems.
    • Minimize disruptions in the lives and movements of mountain lions and other wildlife, as well as impacts to mountain lion or other wildlife habitat, while maintaining the permitholder's research objectives.
    • Directly or indirectly support the sustainability and survival of mountain lion populations and healthy ecosystems.
    • Prevent the permanent injury or killing of any mountain lion.

If portions of any proposal contains intellectually confidential information (e.g., novel capture methodology), such information should be included in the appendix under a confidentiality statement heading that shall read: "The following information is a trade secret and should be exempt from public disclosure under the California Public Records Act pursuant to sections 6254(k) and 6276.44 of the Government Code." The proposal must still provide sufficient descriptive information, and simply reference this appendix when and where appropriate.

30-day Public Notices of Authorized Research Permits

The Department shall notify the public of the intent to issue a Scientific Collecting Permit (SCP) for mountain lion research 30 days prior to permit issuance, pursuant to Fish and Game Code Section 4810. As of July 2019, CDFW has no pending SCP Permits for mountain lion research. Draft permit copies are available for review upon written request:

California Department of Fish and Wildlife
Wildlife Branch – MOUNTAIN LION SCP
1812 Ninth Street
Sacramento, CA 95811

Laws and Regulations

The passage of the California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 (Proposition 117) by California voters established that mountain lions are a "specially protected mammal" in California. It is unlawful to possess, transport, import or sell any mountain lion or part or product thereof (including taxidermy mounts). 

Specimen Possession / Taxidermy

No person may sell or possess any mountain lion, part or product thereof, unless s/he is in possession of a valid, nontransferable permit issued by the department. A permit shall be issued by CDFW with the following stipulations:

  1. Any person who can demonstrate that the mountain lion, part or product thereof, was in his/her possession on or before June 6, 1990; or
  2. A nonprofit museum or government-owned facility generally open to the public, or an educational institution, for display, exhibition, or storage, for a bona fide scientific or educational purpose as determined by the department.

Permits shall be made available to department staff for inspection, upon request, and may be revoked by the department for failure to comply with the terms of the permit, this section, or Section 4800 of the Fish and Game Code. Any person issued a permit or a tag from the department for a mountain lion, or part or product thereof, prior to January 1, 2014, shall not be required to obtain a new permit, provided s/he maintains and makes available his existing permit or tag upon request of a department employee.

Potential Conflict and Public Safety

Human-wildlife conflicts are reported in urban and rural communities throughout California. As communities expand into wildland areas, increasingly reported interactions between people and mountain lions has resulted in increased calls for assistance from the public. Human population growth in the urban/wildland interface has manifested in small land parcels, many of which contain pets, small livestock, poultry, or exotic animals. These factors can lead to potential conflict due to increased attractants and competition for resources.

Cases where mountain lions threaten people are immediately addressed. In cases when pets or livestock are killed by mountain lions, a  stepwise decision-making process is used to issue mountain lion depredation permits, pursuant provisions in Proposition 117 (Fish and Game Code Sections 4800-4810). 

  • CDFW has developed strategies to address the risk of mountain lions on the landscape using diverse tools and the best available science.
  • Highly trained scientific and law enforcement staff address all cases of human conflicts with mountain lions. Training is a necessary part of an effective response to reported conflict.
  • Communication, education, and outreach are important to enhancing the public’s understanding of potential conflict, conservation, and safe coexistence.
  • For more information, visit the Human-Wildlife Conflicts Program webpage and Keep Me Wildlife.

The Department receives hundreds of mountain lion sighting reports each year. Few sightings result in a mountain lion being identified as an imminent threat to public safety and killed under CDFW Wildlife Public Safety Guidelines. Most reports are resolved by providing species information and/or technical assistance.

Verified Mountain Lion-Human Attacks

Depredation

The Department seeks to avoid, where possible, mountain lion mortality resulting from the issuance of depredation permits. Further, staff strive to improve training, communication, transparency, and decision-making as they relate to managing human-wildlife conflicts involving mountain lions. It is recognized that each depredation incident may be unique. Property owners have legitimate concerns regarding mountain lion depredation. The Department understands these concerns, and is responsive to reported depredation pursuant to Fish and Game Code Section 4802.

Since 2017, CDFW's approach has been deliberative, starting with a three-step policy implemented in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana Mountains. In February 2020, the policy was expanded to the larger proposed evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) contained in the petition to the Fish and Game Commission to list mountain lions under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA). Currently, staff use a deliberative stepwise process for responding to reported mountain lion incidents statewide. 

A primary focus of the stepwise process is to prioritize approaches and actions that are non-lethal in accordance with Fish and Game Code Section 4801.5, which provides that non-lethal measures shall be used when issuing depredation permits unless otherwise stated. Staff will provide property owners technical assistance, including:

  • Educational materials and resources regarding mountain lion behavior;
  • Potential reasonable preventative measures as recommended by the Department;
  • Site-specific options, including logistically and economically feasible measures to reduce the potential for attracting mountain lions;
  • Terms and conditions of a depredation permit, if applicable, and reporting requirements.

During the stepwise process, recommended measures may include, but not limited to: 1) removing the carcass and carcass parts of depredated animals; 2) install/repair/replace exclusion fencing; 3) implement more robust animal husbandry practices; 4) deploy temporary deterrent systems; 5) use livestock protection dogs; and 6) hazing (e.g., use of bean bag shots).

Depredation Statistics Summary

A permittee is required to report take or no take upon expiration or fulfillment of the permit. CDFW maintains table summaries of the annual number of issued mountain lion depredation permits and the resultant take as reported to CDFW.

NOTE:

  • Data may be subject to change as new information becomes available.
  • These data represent the least number of permits issued to take a mountain lion and the least number of mountain lions taken under depredation permits in a given county in a given year. Temporal and/or geographic inconsistencies in reporting may make the data unreliable for identifying trends or making geographical comparisons without the application of a peer-approved scientific model that accounts for inconsistencies in reporting.
  • In some years, more lions were reported as taken than number of depredation permits issued. This may be due, but not limited, to inaccuracies in reporting. Additionally, multiple mountain lions could be taken on a single permit prior to 2013.
  • Depredation permits issued where the name of the county is not entered or legible are recorded as “Unknown County”.
  • Between 2016 and 2017, CDFW migrated all depredation permits to an electronic system.
  • Prior to 2018, the word “taken” is equivalent to “killed”. Since 2019, depredation permits which only authorize non-lethal methods under the new CDFW mountain lion depredation policy will be indicated separately in the table.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are mountains lions listed as a threatened or endangered species?

Mountain lions are legally classified as "specially protected species". In July 2019, the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Fish and Game Commission to list mountain lions as threatened under the California Endangered Species Act (CESA) within a proposed evolutionarily significant unit (ESU) located in Southern California and along the central coast of California. In April 2020, the Commission found that listing of this ESU may be warranted and designated mountain lion within the ESU as a candidate species under CESA.

CDFW is now completing a 12-month status review of mountain lions within the proposed ESU. Upon completion, CDFW will make its recommendation on listing to the Commission. Under CESA, species classified as a candidate species are afforded the same protection as listed species. As a result, mountain lions in this proposed ESU are CESA-protected during the review period.

Elsewhere in California, mountain lion numbers appear to be stable.

How many mountain lions are in California?

Statewide mountain lion population estimates are based on the best scientific knowledge, research, and methods available. The exact number is unknown. Mountain lion studies over the last 40 years have estimated population densities for different habitat types throughout California. These density estimates have varied from zero to 10 lions per 100 square miles, then applied to the total amount of each habitat type available. Previous studies have estimated 2,000-3,000 mountain lions statewide. In a 1996 study, CDFW estimated 4,000-6,000 mountain lions statewide using density estimates from previous studies.

In 2014, the Department began working to update the statewide mountain lion population estimate using more rigorous field-based and data analysis methods. This study effort is anticipated to be completed within the next several years. Estimating population densities of an elusive species, such as the mountain lion, in a state as geographically large and diverse as California is a complex task.

Where are mountain lions found in California?

Mountain lions are known to inhabit diverse habitats across most of California. Mountain lions can be found wherever deer are present, since deer are a mountain lion's primary food source in most areas. As such, foothills and mountains are considered prime mountain lion habitat.

Is the mountain lion population increasing or decreasing?

Most mountain lion populations are thought to be relatively stable in California. In 2014, the Department began implementing a statewide mountain lion study to determine the status, relative abundance, and population densities across California. Ongoing monitoring of localized trends, data collection and analysis is being conducted statewide to derive a baseline population estimate.

Can mountain lions be hunted in California?

No. The California Wildlife Protection Act of 1990 (Proposition 117) legally classified mountain lions as a "specially protected mammal". It is unlawful to take, injure, possess, transport, import, or sell any mountain lion or any part or product thereof. This status and other statutes prohibit the Department from developing hunting season or take limits for lions. The act established certain exemptions from that prohibition. Mountain lions may be killed only 1) if a depredation permit is issued to take a specific lion that has killed livestock or pets; 2) to preserve public safety; or 3) to protect listed bighorn sheep.

Are mountain lion attacks common?

Mountain lion attacks on humans are uncommon. Statistically speaking, a person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion. Since 1890, there have been few verified mountain lion attacks on humans in California, six of them fatal. In most cases, the person was alone when the attack occurred. The last documented human-lion attack occurred June 2020 in San Diego County.

Under the CDFW's Public Safety Wildlife Guidelines, an animal is deemed to be a public safety threat if there is “a likelihood of human injury based on the totality of the circumstances.” Factors that are considered include the lion's behavior and its proximity to schools, playgrounds and other public gathering places. The determination of whether an animal is a public safety threat is made by the CDFW or local law enforcement personnel on the scene. If a wild animal is declared a public safety threat, protecting human health and safety is a priority.

People who live in mountain lion habitat can take precautions to reduce their risk of encountering a mountain lion. By deer-proofing the landscape, homeowners can avoid attracting a lion's main food source. Removing dense vegetation from around the home and installing outdoor lighting will make it difficult for mountain lions to approach unseen. Human-wildlife conflicts with mountain lions have become increasingly common as more people move into mountain lion habitat. Mountain lions primarily eat deer and other wildlife, but if allowed, they will prey on vulnerable pets and livestock. The Department received hundreds of reports annually of mountain lions harming or killing livestock and pets. Many options and resources exist to reduce conflicts with these beautiful wild animals.

  • Trim brush to reduce hiding places for mountain lions.
  • Install motion-sensitive lighting around the house and other structures.
  • Provide sturdy, covered shelters for sheep, goats, and other vulnerable animals.
  • Do not allow pets outside unattended when mountain lions are most active—dawn, dusk, and at night.
  • Bring pet food inside to avoid attracting raccoons, opossums and other potential mountain lion prey.

Can a mountain lion be relocated to avoid conflict?

If a mountain lion is deemed a 'No Harm-No Foul" animal and does not pose a threat, Department staff will work to encourage the animal back to its nearest suitable habitat. This may occur by monitoring and/or securing the local area to allow the animal to return on its own, actively hazing the animal to deter it, or conducting a capture to relocate it.

If a mountain lion displays unusually bold, inappropriate or aggressive behavior toward humans, the Department will not relocate the animal because of the risk it may pose to others. If a mountain lion is declared a public safety threat, the Department and local law enforcement work quickly to remove any threat in the most humane manner possible.

If a mountain lion is considered non-releasable (e.g., due to injury, disease, habituation), the Department will work with permitted facilities and agency partners to try and find permanent placement of the animal. Most facilities, including wildlife sanctuaries and zoos, have limited space or resources to accept large wild animals for exhibit.

Mountain lions are typically solitary and elusive. They often co-exist around people, unseen and unheard. Sometimes disease will cause an animal to behave strangely. Some public safety mountain lions have tested positive for feline leukemia or, more rarely, rabies. Often, there is no clear explanation why a mountain lion may abandon its instinctive wariness of humans.

How do I live and recreate safely in areas with mountain lions?

Mountain lions typically pose little threat to humans, and generally avoid any human interaction. A person is one thousand times more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by a mountain lion. People who live in mountain lion habitat can take precautions to reduce their risk of encountering a mountain lion.

Living With Mountain Lions

  • Deer-proof your property to avoid attracting a lion's main food source.
  • Remove dense vegetation from around the home to reduce hiding spaces.
  • Install outdoor lighting to make it difficult for mountain lions to approach unseen.
  • Secure livestock and outdoor large pets in sturdy, covered shelters at night.
  • Always remember - Mountain lions are wild animals and their behavior may be unpredictable (like any wildlife).

Mountain Lion Encounters

  • Do not hike, bike, or jog alone. Do not hike, bike, or jog at dawn, dusk, or at night.
  • Stay alert on trails. Keep a close watch on small children and off leash pets.
  • Never approach a mountain lion. Give them an escape route.
  • DO NOT RUN. Stay calm. Do not turn your back. Face the animal, make noise and try to look bigger.
  • Do not crouch down or bend over.

Visit the Department's Human-Wildlife Conflict Program and Keep Me Wild mountain lion pages for more information.