How California Wildfires Deeply Affected Mountain Lions

by Samantha Whidden
(Photo by: Dennis Fast / VWPics/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

As the California wildfire season starts winding down, it’s been revealed exactly how the blazes deeply affect the mountain lions and their population. 

The Smithsonian Magazine reports that scientists have been tracking mountain lions throughout the Los Angeles area. By using GPS collars to compare the movements of the animals before and after the Santa Monica Mountains fire, it was determined that the animals were avoiding about half of their previous habitat. 

In response to this, mountain lions have been attempting more dangerous behaviors. This includes crossing highways and moving around in broad daylight. Both situations make the animals vulnerable to injuries or even death by vehicles. However, while the behaviors have changed, it was noted that Los Angeles residents are not noticing any changes. This is due to the animals still avoiding humans. They also don’t have any interest to go into neighbors or even heavily populated areas. 

Megan Jennings, an ecologist at San Diego State University, spoke about the mountain lions’ behavior. “I love that they were able to fill in some of those gaps about what’s happening in this immediate post-fire landscape, when everything looks really different. It’s a look at how these animals are adapting, and what that means for how they bounce up against things like roads and development.”

The Smithsonian Magazine also reports the National Park Service and its collaborators have conducted studies on mountain lions. It’s noted that living near around 18 million people does pose some serious challenges for the big cats. Along with fires, urban development has also caused issues with the cats being able to stay in their habitats. 

Wildfires like the Woosley & Santa Monica Mountains Deeply Impact Mountain Lions

Meanwhile, the Smithsonian Magazine reports that new research is now suggesting that wildfires led the mountain lions out of habitats. They are also adopting more dangerous behaviors in their new homes. 

“Most of these animals are able to get out of the way, and they don’t die in the fire,” Riley Sikich, a wildlife ecologist with the National Park Service at the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, explained. “So, the effects that we were interested in were what happens afterward. We knew that it would have a big effect on what these animals do.”

However, despite being forced into urban areas, mountain lions are still going out of their way to avoid humans. “I think that a lot of people had the idea that after the Woolsey Fire mountain lions would just start pouring out into the urban landscape,” said Rachel Blakey, a biologist with the University of California, Los Angeles. “It just goes to show to what lengths they go to avoid encountering humans. They’d rather run across a 10-lane freeway than hang out with you.”