California’s mighty predator — the mountain lion — faces ‘extinction vortex’

As the mountain lions of Southern California approach what some experts call an “extinction vortex,” environmentalists are demanding that state officials grant the big cats protective status — a move that could potentially ban development on thousands of acres of prime real estate.

Mountain lions as a species are not threatened in California, but a petition submitted Tuesday to the state Fish and Game Commission argues that six isolated and genetically distinct cougar clans from Santa Cruz to the U.S.-Mexico border comprise a subpopulation that is threatened by extinction.

The petition, which is co-sponsored by the Center for Biological Diversity and the nonprofit Mountain Lion Foundation, argues that Central and Southern California mountain lions comprise an “evolutionarily significant unit” that should be declared threatened under the state Endangered Species Act.

Recent scientific studies suggest there’s an almost 1 in 4 chance that Southern California mountain lions could become extinct in the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains within 50 years.

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