Protection of endangered mountain lions in Southern California urged

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife recommended that six struggling mountain lion populations, some in southern California, be protected under the state's Endangered Species Act.

The move comes shortly after P-56, a male mountain lion in the critically endangered Santa Monica population, was killed in January under a state-issued depredation permit by a landowner who had lost livestck to the big cat.

Placing the mountain lions under the Act would likely lessen the issuance of additional permits to kill cougars in protected populations that have preyed on livestock, according to the department's recommendation.

RELATED: Male mountain lion killed in Santa Monica Mountains under state depredation law

"We're elated that California's big cats are a step closer to protection,'' Tiffany Yap, a biologist at the Center and primary author of the petition, said. "These amazing animals face huge threats that could wipe out key populations. We urge the state to finalize these protections quickly so mountain lions can thrive in California for generations to come.''

California's Fish and Game Commission will decide in April whether to grant these populations candidate status under the state Endangered Species Act. If that occurs, it will trigger a yearlong review of whether the species should be formally protected under the state act. The act's full protections apply during the yearlong candidacy period.

Researchers with the National Park Service, UC Davis and UCLA warn that if enough inbreeding occurs, the Santa Ana population could go extinct within 12 years, and the Santa Monica population within 15.

"Mountain lion populations are dying from vehicle strikes and depredations and are increasingly isolated as freeways slice up their remaining habitat,'' Debra Chase, CEO of the Mountain Lion Foundation, said. "We urge state officials to move quickly to protect these iconic cats.''