Struggling to Link Lands for Cougars in California

Chad Cohen and Andrew Paterson
National Geographic Today
May 21, 2003

In the rugged Santa Monica Mountains, less than 20 miles (32 kilometers) from downtown Los Angeles, at least two mountain lions inhabit 250 square miles (650 square kilometers) of protected land in a narrow strip between the 101 freeway and the Pacific Ocean.

Park officials know there are at least two because that's how many Seth Riley and Eric York, biologists with the National Park Service, have collared with satellite tags—a male and a female that they captured last year and known as P1 and P2.

The researchers want to determine whether this slice of the Santa Monica Mountains can sustain a healthy population of the lions, which are also called pumas, catamounts, and cougars.

They believe they already know the answer.

"A population of five to ten animals is not going to make it in the long run for all kinds of demographic and potentially genetic reasons … you have to have connections to other populations," says Riley.

The mountain lions will perish unless they can travel more widely—and connect with other lions to renew the breed.

Now it seems the lions' survival could depend on their ability to cross the 101 freeway via the establishment of a so-called linkage, or wildlife corridor, at Liberty Canyon.

Ecologists have classified Liberty Canyon as one of 15 critical biological linkage sites—basically a designated swath of land where all animals can safely travel from one wildland to another without having to negotiate major highways or heavily urbanized regions.

The mountain lion study is part of a much larger program called the South Coast Missing Linkages Project, which is sponsored by major public and private groups. The South Coast Wildlands Project (SCWP) wants to build the wildlife equivalent of interstate highways.

Routing Mountain Lions With Linkages

"Our ultimate goal is to have a whole system, a network of wildlands that spans the entire eco-region, all of Southern California," says Kristeen Penrod, executive director of SCWP.

Two hundred land managers and conservation ecologists gathered at the Missing Linkages conference in San Diego in November 2000, and identified about 70 wildlife corridors in California's South Coast Ecoregion—an area flanked by Santa Barbara in the North, the Californian Baja in the south, the Peninsula ranges in the east, and Pacific Ocean in the west. They designated 15 sites as critical—these lands are important for preserving biological diversity and are vulnerable to urbanization.

Continued on Next Page >>


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