Mountain lion killed in Kenwood
Second mountain lion taken under depredation permit in past year
Sarah C. Phelps
The last surviving mountain lion from a litter of triplets born in Glen Ellen in 2017 has been killed – taken under a depredation permit issued after the young female lion killed a goat on a creekside vineyard property in Kenwood.
The 16-month-old female mountain lion, known as P6, was one of seven lions collared and tracked in the Living with Lions research project being headed up by conservation biologists at Audubon Canyon Ranch’s (ACR) Bouverie Preserve in Glen Ellen. This marks the second collared mountain lion in nine months to be killed under a depredation permit locally.
P6 became an Internet sensation last year as one of three kittens born to her mom, P1, the research project’s first research subject. A sibling of P6 from a different litter, P2 suffered the same fate and was killed after being captured in December 2017 under a depredation permit when she killed two pet livestock in the Glen Ellen area. On average, mountain lion kittens have a mortality rate of 50 percent in the wild. Both of P6’s two siblings had died of natural causes by February 2018.
Researchers were able to collar and document P6’s feeding habits after she left her mother’s care in February 2018. P6 had killed three deer fawns, two adult deer and one goat before being killed in July.
Examination by ACR researchers of local mountain lion diets over the last two years have shown that 75 percent of their prey are deer, although each one of the study subjects had at some point killed pets and livestock.
“Depredation of our region’s wildlife is not an effective solution for wildlife-livestock conflict,” wrote Dr. Quinton Martins, head of ACR’s Living With Lions study, in a July 30 blog post ACR’s website.
“By removing the offending lion, we neglect to address the underlying issue of safeguarding domestic animal enclosures, the situation will be repeated at the same location or elsewhere.”
In California, if a domestic animal (pet or livestock) is lost to a mountain lion, the owner has the legal right under Prop 117 to seek a depredation permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), and CDFW is required to issue one. Prop 117 was approved by California voters in 1990, the same act that re-classified mountain lions from “game animals” that could be hunted to a “protected species.”
As of last winter, there are now two exceptions to this blanket policy. In the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains, decades of research have shown those populations to be threatened and genetically isolated from the rest of the state, said Senior Environmental Scientist for CDFW Justin Dellinger. In these areas CDFW has adopted a three-strikes policy; landowners must use non-lethal scare tactics and preventative measures. Only after following CDFW recommendations, and after suffering a loss from a mountain lion a third time, will a landowner be issued a lethal permit.
Martins thinks the removal of lions from the population here in the Mayacamas Mountains could threaten their genetic diversity, too.
“Preliminary results from the first six lions shows very low genetic diversity,” said Martins “I don’t know yet why that is, but let’s be prudent and err on the side of caution.”
A similar three-strikes rule here in Northern California would give the local lions a fighting chance, he said. He and other researchers from UC Davis and UCLA, are working with CFWD hoping to see an overhaul to the current depredation policy.
Dellinger said he believes many more years of local research will be needed before drawing those conclusions. It’s impossible to infer the impact the death of one lion has on a population unless you have population estimates, data on sex ratios, things like that, he said.
“Knowing the fact that all the cats we have [in the study] are killing livestock, it makes no sense to target them individually. Killing one will just bring in another mountain lion that will do the same thing,” said Martins.
Unintended consequences of removing a mountain lion from its habitat include an imbalance in deer behavior and populations, which has impacts on the growth of new trees and vegetation, which in turn can impact erosion and even affect fish and butterfly diversity. Also, if a territorial male is killed, it can actually increase the number of lions in a given area as younger males move in to claim the territory.
After CDFW has issued a depredation permit, the landowner can choose to kill the lion themselves or contact the Sonoma County Department of Agriculture’s wildlife specialist.
CDFW does not keep track of depredation permits based on towns and cities, but does track numbers at the county level. In 2017, six depredation permits were issued in Sonoma County, and four lions were killed.
“Mountain lions, as top carnivores, are important in maintaining the integrity of our ecosystem. It is fantastic to know that mountain lions still roam this incredible landscape, and the Living with Lions project will do all it can to help people co-exist with the wildlife here,” said Martins.
But education of landowners is not enough, he continued. “There are too many people in the range of these cats most of whom are not taking adequate precautions to protect against predators like lions. A change in the policy is the only way to fully deal with this matter no matter how good our outreach and education efforts are.”
Two weeks ago, Martins discovered a silver lining in the wake of P6’s death; P1 has given birth to her third litter, two kittens, in a den near Kenwood. Martins hopes the outcome for these kittens can be better than their predecessors. View video footage of the kittens and their mother in the den at egret.org/Living-with-Lions, coming later this month.