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Currently Permitted Mountain Lion Research Projects

Pursuant to Fish and Game Code section 4810, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife may issue a Scientific Collecting Permit to entities for research projects involving mountain lion captures. This page provides an Executive Summary for CDFW-permitted mountain lion research projects currently occurring in California.

Southern California Mountain Lion Study

University of California, Davis - Wildlife Health Center
Dr. Walter Boyce, DVM, PhD, MPVM, Dr. Winston Vickers, DVM, MPVM

Mountain lions in California are important indicators of ecosystem health and connectivity, especially in southern California where the landscape is highly fragmented by previous and ongoing / planned human development. This research will expand knowledge regarding mountain lion disease and toxin exposure, genetics, and interactions with wildlife prey species, humans, and domestic animals. Additionally, this research will assess mountain lion use of specific southern California conserved lands, linkages, and road crossings in order to help guide conservation and road planning decisions.

Santa Cruz Puma Project

University of California, Santa Cruz
Dr. Chris W. Wilmers, PhD

This study will contribute to the knowledge of natural wildlife ecosystems by evaluating the relationship between landscape features, energetic demand, physiological capabilities, and foraging strategies in the puma. For the first time, field energetic costs of a large carnivorous felid will be measured and related to the behavior and ecology of individuals. We will use a laboratory-to-field approach to develop, calibrate and test a collar, the ANIMA (Accelerometer Network Integrator for Mobil Animals) that can be used to assess continuous time-energy budgets, movement patterns, behavioral diaries, and daily energetic costs of puma.

Habitat loss and fragmentation are well known to cause species declines and extinctions (Pimm et al. 1995, Fahrig 2003). Fragmentation has also been shown to influence the stability of predator-prey interactions (Levin 1976, Hastings 1977, Hanski and Ranta 1983), yet experimental tests are based largely on small scale experiments using insects (e.g., Kareiva 1987). While it is generally known that as habitat patch size declines, large predators become locally extinct resulting in meso-predator release (Crooks and Soule 1999), the degree to which fragmentation influences predator energy costs and ecological impacts is not well understood. A mechanistic theory that can predict, not just whether a species can persist or not, but also the extent to which its ecological impact is attenuated, magnified or otherwise altered as fragmentation increases is needed.

Human development in and near open space in the United States and internationally is increasingly fragmenting wilderness areas causing declines and local extinctions of top predators. Developing an understanding of the physiological demands and ecology of large predators in fragmented habitats will thus be crucial to preserving these species and their impacts on ecosystem processes. Yet most studies of large predators are conducted in large national or otherwise protected parks. By conducting our study on pumas in a highly fragmented area of both public and private lands in the San Francisco Bay Area, our proposed project will support the sustainability and survival of puma populations and healthy ecosystems.

Intent to collar and monitor mountain lions in the Kings River Area of the Sierra National Forest

United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service
Dr. Craig M. Thompson, PhD

Over the past 5 years, research on fisher (Pekania pennanti) ecology in the Sierra Nevada Mountains has identified mountain lion predation as a primary source of mortality for fishers, accounting for 36% of all mortality and 50% of all predation. Specifically, predation on adult female fishers during the denning season appears to be a potential limiting factor to population expansion. What is unknown is whether current lion predation rates on fishers are similar to historical rates, or whether changes in predator densities, forest structure, fire frequency, or human activity have altered the balance between the two native species.

In the Kings River area of the Sierra National Forest, fisher monitoring, including trapping, telemetry, and scat detector dog surveys, has been ongoing since 2007, with current funding available through 2013. In 2010, the Sierra National Forest initiated a multi-stakeholder project (Dinkey Collaborative) charged with designing and implementing fuel reduction projects in the same area. Discussions are currently underway to extend the fisher monitoring program through 2018 in order to capitalize on the before-after/control-impact research opportunity: monitoring the impacts of fuel treatment activities on fisher survival, reproduction, and habitat use. We propose to capture, collar, and monitor lions within the two primary watersheds of the Kings River area, concurrent in space and time with both the fisher monitoring program and the fuel reduction program. Primary objectives would be 1) to concurrently document fisher and lion movement patterns, and to identify areas or habitats where interactions were likely, 2) to generate a ‘risk-based’ habitat model for fishers to quantify the likeliness of encountering a mountain lion, 3) to better understand how vegetation and fuel management by the USFS can mitigate or enhance this risk, and 4) to quantify predation rates by lions on numerous prey species including ungulates and mesocarnivores. Secondary objectives include 1) overlapping the work described above with ongoing bobcat (Lynx rufus) monitoring in the area led by G. Wengert to better understand carnivore community interactions and how these interactions are impacted by vegetation management, 2) evaluate the exposure of mountain lions to rodenticides, insecticides, and other toxins currently being found in fishers and presumed to come from illegal marijuana cultivation sites, and 3) conduct a concurrent camera trapping grid to validate a non- invasive approach to estimating lion abundance currently being developed in Wyoming. Sufficient funding and in-kind contribution have been secured to address the first three primary objectives. Funding is currently being sought to address the remaining objectives.

Sonoma Mountain Lion Project

Audubon Canyon Ranch
Dr. Quinton Martins, Ph.D.

Audubon Canyon Ranch (ACR) is spearheading a mountain lion (Puma concolor) research and education project in California’s San Francisco North Bay Region. These iconic and charismatic predators are an ecological keystone species, their survival indicating whether habitats are intact and functioning. The SF Bay Area, with its increasing human population in an ever-changing matrix of urban, rural, and open space-uses, presents a challenge for mountain lion conservation. As such, our project offers a unique environment in which to ensure that humans and mountain lions can coexist in this complex fragmented landscape. ACR protects over 5000 acres of natural habitat in this region and has been collaborating with partner organizations to maximize the wildlife connectivity. Although individual mountain lions have been documented through ACR’s remote camera surveys, little is known about how they navigate the landscape. The population of mountain lions has yet to be enumerated and insufficient information pertaining to their local diet and habitat needs further complicates land management decisions. This project will use habitat selection models to model likely core habitat and corridors for lions in our study area then validate those models with new GPS data from lions we will collar. Furthermore, there is a lack of public awareness showing how intact wildlife habitat provides important ecosystem services for humans as well, such as clean air and water. These data will lead to a better understanding of ecological interactions and inform management strategies. The Project is part of a larger “Bay Area Research Cooperative” in which relevant data will be shared with two other NGOs and with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Mountain Lion Conservation Program. This cooperative approach leverages the expertise of multiple, well-respected researchers, increasing conservation impact, expanding the scope of public awareness and streamlining costs. The project builds on ACR’s successful model of community-based conservation and education which has been connecting people with nature for over 50 years. With over 800 trained volunteers supporting its education, stewardship, and research programs, ACR has a cadre of “conservation ambassadors” with deep ties to surrounding communities. The education and outreach components of the project will broaden awareness, transform attitudes towards mountain lions, and contribute to long-term conservation of habitat for mountain lions, their prey and many other species.

Siskiyou Deer and Mountain Lion Research Project

University of California, Santa Cruz
Dr. Chris W. Wilmers, Ph.D.

This study will increase scientific knowledge of the effects of habitat fragmentation on mountain lion physiology, behavior, movement and ecosystem impacts in the Central Coast of California. Quality scientific data on fragmentation impacts on top predators will support both local and international efforts to maintain habitat connectivity. The research will also produce a wildlife collar, the ANIMA (Accelerometer Network Integrator for Mobil Animals), which will revolutionize the science of wildlife conservation by allowing researchers and mangers to continuously measure the energetics, behavior and movement of terrestrial mammals in relation to habitat variables such as human development.



Wildlife Investigations Lab
1701 Nimbus Road Suite D, Rancho Cordova, CA 95670
(916) 358-2790 | WILAB@wildlife.ca.gov