A young mountain lion monitored by the National Park Service since 2017 was killed last month near Camarillo, the first to be killed in the Santa Monica Mountains under a California law that allows a landowner to take lethal action against a big cat that has killed or injured livestock or pets if other deterrents have failed.
The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area announced the death of P-56 on Monday.
The 4- or 5-year-old mountain lion was believed to be the brother of P-55 and the father of P-70, P-71, P-72 and P-73 and was living south of the 101 Freeway in the western area of the Santa Monica Mountains.
Mountain lion hunting has been banned in California since 1990. An exception to the law, created in 2014, allows lions that have killed a pet or livestock to be put down. In those instances, a property owner may request a depredation permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. In the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains, where the mountain lion population is isolated and at risk, an individual must allow for a “three-strike” policy, which went into effect in 2017, before taking action.
In the case of P-56, a property owner in the Camarillo area reported nine attacks over two years that resulted in the loss of 12 animals, mostly sheep and a few lambs. Before the mountain lion’s death in late January, the Department of Fish and Wildlife said the landowner tried to keep the lion from the animals, including by penning livestock close to a barn and house, using trained guard dogs, putting up hot-wire fencing and using motion-activated lights and audio frequencies. P-56’s most recent attack was just a day or so before he was killed, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“The loss of a breeding male is a concern for the study, especially when the population is already very small,” said Jeff Sikich, the lead field biologist for the mountain lion research project. “There are always animals out there that are not being tracked. Currently, there is only one adult male in the Santa Monica Mountains that we are tracking and that is P-63.”
P-63 was caught and collared in February 2018.
Joseph T. Edmiston, the 40-year executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, said he’s willing to circumvent bureaucratic processes to take matters into his own hands to prevent the death of the last remaining male mountain lion in the area.
“I’ve worked for 40 years. To see one of the last two breathing mountain lion males shot for 12 sheep is so egregious. I will spend my own personal money so that doesn’t happen again.”
Edmiston said the mountain lion’s killing went “under the radar” until it was disclosed this week. He fears what will happen if P-63 gets hungry near an area where livestock roam.
In such an instance, Edmiston is asking that any affected individual who loses an animal to a lion to contact him directly for monetary reimbursement, rather than going to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife for a depredation permit. He is also asking the conservancy’s board to ask the state Legislature to appropriately amend the law and establish an indemnity fund.
“My personal email is email@example.com. Email me,” he said.
The mountain lions in the Santa Monica range have been part of a nearly 18-year national park study. While the park service conducts research on local lions, the Department of Fish and Wildlife manages the state’s wildlife. There are an unknown number of uncollared mountain lions that live in the Santa Monica range.
Tim Daly, an information officer with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said when someone reports that their livestock or pet was attacked by a mountain lion, the agency investigates the incident to confirm what happened, looking over the bite marks, animal tracks and other details. Fish and Wildlife staff will also contact the National Park Service to ask it to check whether any collared mountain lions were in the area at the time of the attack, Daly said.
The agency staff will then communicate with the animal owners about how they can better protect their pets and livestock, Daly said. The agency staff will look to see whether the fencing or lighting is adequate and if not, explain how the owner can fix it.
Before the agency will considering granting a depredation permit, owners must show that they’ve done everything they can to protect their property and animals and discourage a wild animal’s return, Daly said.
The agency doesn’t disclose the method used to kill an animal through a depredation permit, but the method used is required to be humane and the most effective method possible, he said.
“These are very unfortunate situations,” Daly said. “It breaks our hearts. We’re in this for the right reasons. We don’t like taking animals out of their existence, but there are times when, whether it’s a mountain lion in Southern California, or a bear in Northern California, sometimes they keep pushing and pushing, and the messages to discourage their visits are no longer working.”