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Take a Hike | Commentary by Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel
| Sunday, Sep 4, 2016

DianneErskineHellrigelThe mountain lions in the Santa Monica Mountains are at risk of extinction.

There are many factors at play here, the primary one being that the lions are trapped in an urban island. They cannot travel easily from habitat to habitat to find food, water or mates.

One lion managed to cross the 101 freeway, the 118 freeway, the 126, and he ended up in the Los Padres National Forest almost victorious in his escape – but he was chased out of another lion’s territory, crossed the I-5 and was hit and killed in a collision with a vehicle. This is the fate that our Santa Monica lions face if they try to escape their island habitat.

The lions in and around Santa Clarita face the same issue. There is no safe way to travel from habitat to habitat. We’ve had a lion hit and killed on the I-5 at Calgrove Avenue, and another lion killed at Placerita Canyon on SR-14. We’ve also had bears, bobcats, coyotes and foxes killed trying to cross the freeways.

The easiest solution is wildlife corridors, such as the one they are trying to build at Liberty Canyon for the lions and other wildlife. But they are expensive. The current cost of this project is listed at $60 million. And there is no plan for a crossing in Santa Clarita. The Weldon Bridge is an ideal crossing that would connect the Santa Susana Mountains to the Sierra Pelonas and almost to the San Gabriel Mountains – where they would still have to negotiate Sierra Highway and SR-14.

mountainlion03In addition to the risk of being killed from crossing streets and freeways, lions have other challenges that could lead to their extinction. If they cannot escape to find new mates, lions end up mating with close relatives. Mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers can all inter-mate, which can endanger genetic diversity. This can lead to genetic deficiencies and eventually to extinction. The lack of genetic biodiversity can be catastrophic.

Some people have advocated for pumas to be moved around from habitat to habitat. But this doesn’t work. The animal will either try to return, be hit by a vehicle in his or her attempt to return, or will be killed by a resident lion that might live where the new visitor was transferred.

Male mountain lions need about 100 square miles to live, and females need about 50 square miles. You cannot just plop another lion in their territory.

There are approximately 15 mountain lions living in the Santa Monica Mountains. We have no idea how many are living in the Santa Clarita area, since our lions are not collared. Our local mountain lions are hemmed in by the 5 Freeway and the 14 Freeway. These two freeways prevent our lions from safely traveling from north to south and east to west. In the Santa Monica Mountains, they are hemmed in by the 101 Freeway and the ocean so they cannot travel north or south. They are also hemmed in by the 405 Freeway and farmland to the west, which provides no cover for travel.

mountainlion04Lions that are trapped in one habitat can have other problems. Mountain lions generally feast on deer. If the deer population is not enough to support the resident lions, the lions might be forced to kill livestock such as sheep, llamas and goats. This, if proven, could lead to the death of yet another mountain lion and the loss of even more genetic material. We’ve been suffering through another extended drought in California, and this can lead to a lower than normal deer population.

Another major problem that affects our mountain lions across Southern California is rodenticides. People like to poison rats, mice, rabbits and anything else that might be munching on their garden. The poisoned animal could be eaten by a hawk or a mountain lion that would then become sick or die from second-hand rodenticide poisoning. When this happens, we again lose genetic material.

We need to figure out a way to create safe corridors for these animals to improve our ecosystems, to improve the animals’ lives, to keep them alive, to protect our livestock and to eliminate our negative interactions with animals that live in our surrounding open spaces.

I was at a meeting a few weeks ago in the Santa Monica Mountains where a man was complaining about cougars killing his livestock (although the wildlife biologists disagree on his perception). He refused to secure his animals in a barn or impenetrable cage at night, which was the obvious and best solution, and he wanted to shoot the mountain lion. If that lion had a corridor for safe passage, it would not be hunting livestock and would be able to move from habitat to habitat to hunt deer. In the words of dear Mr. Spock, “It’s only logical.”

If you have livestock, please secure them in barns at night. If you live near open space, use fencing around your property that is wildlife-penetrable so you don’t block wildlife movement through your area.

If at some time in the future a safe corridor is suggested in your area, please support it. If our lions become extinct – think of all of the deer, rabbits and rodents that will be invading your property by the thousands. Without the lions hunting nearby, your house and garden would be overwhelmed with these other creatures.

Help keep our lions safe. The ecosystem desperately needs them.

 

 

Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and president of the Santa Clara River Watershed Conservancy. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.

 

mountainlion02mountainlion01

 

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3 Comments

  1. Melissa says:

    Interesting info, thank you.

    A family member near Carson, WA, lost a pair of pygmy goats, a 40 pound gander and 4 goslings last month to a mountain lion. The property borders a National forest, and there is an elk herd and numerous deer who forage almost daily on that land.
    With all of the other animals available, why some little goats and a pet goose were taken was a very painful issue for the family. The hen goose is mourning the missing ‘mate for life,’ and her babies, but has finally started eating again.

    • Usually if there are deer nearby, this doesn’t happen. Young mountain lions and older/ill ones may take advantage of caged animals. Are they positive it’s a mountain lion? Can they enclose their animals at night? That is the safest and best way to keep them alive. Wishing them all the best.

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