The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has updated its policy for issuing depredation (right to kill) permits to residents of the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains.
Jordan Traverso, deputy media director for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that in the past a kill permit would be issued as soon as it was clear a mountain lion had preyed on livestock. Under the new policy, a depredation permit will be issued only after other, nonlethal methods to protect livestock have proven unsuccessful.Before a permit will be issued, the farmer, rancher or other person making the request has to have made two nonlethal attempts to drive the animal away, such as use of motion-activated lights, loud music or bean-bag shots.
Traverso said the change was the result of a new study by the National Park Service that warned about lack of genetic diversity in the local Santa Monica Mountains and Simi Hills. Animal populations are hemmed in by neighborhoods and freeways, limiting the available genetic diversity for their reproduction, the study said.
Because the mountain lion population is diminishing, permits to kill cougars should not be issued lightly, experts say.
Traverso said the revised policy about the right of farmers and ranchers to kill predator mountain lions came about also in response to a previous incident.
When mountain lion P-45 killed a dozen alpacas on a ranch in the Malibu hills in 2016, the owner of the ranch, Victoria Vaughn-Perling, asked for and received a depredation permit, a move that led to public outcry. Threats were made against the ranch owner’s life. Vaughn- Perling never killed P-45 but instead improved the safety of her corral.
“It wasn’t the first, second or third time something like that had happened in that region. It was just the one that got major coverage,” Traverso said. “Every time we had a kill permit out there a bunch of people would tell us we couldn’t do that. We knew we were on our way to a change, and people probably had this feeling because they’d been hearing the same science we had—‘there’s a study about genetic isolation.’”
Traverso said managing cougars in the Santa Monica Mountains is a difficult undertaking.
“We don’t really have a management policy because they’re specially protected. It’s not like other animals where we have a lot of tools to manage them. We deal with them regularly with human/ wildlife incidents, but it’s a different kind of management.”
Room to roam
Mountain lions are solitary creatures that need approximately 200 miles of territory each in order to survive, experts say. But if a problem animal is relocated, odds are it will be placed in another’s territory and one of them will die. Relocation also compounds the problem of genetic diversity.
Removing an animal from an isolated gene pool means that the animals left behind have even less genetic diversity, which could lead to in-breeding and extinction.
State Sen. Henry Stern (DCalabasas) applauded the new rule that makes it harder to kill problem cougars.
“It’s funny because it’s across party lines. The mountains connect all these different constituencies in this district, and it seems pretty universally felt that we want wilderness in our lives,” he said. “We can make the mountains a lot less risky, we could have no animals, no predators. We could have a manicured suburban lifestyle, but people in the Conejo and Simi and Las Virgenes valleys, and all through the Santa Monica Mountains . . . don’t want that. That’s not why they moved here.”