A week in the life of P‑22, the big cat who shares Griffith Park with millions of people

Mountain lion shows the promise, peril of coexistance

Source of this article: The Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2017

The lion slinks through the chaparral, a blur of movement in the night. Head held lower than his shoulders, he scours the brush in a ravine just south of Travel Town in Griffith Park.

Hind paws land where the forepaws lift. No twig snaps, no crinkling leaf. He’s silent, an ambush predator, always hunting, always looking for opportunity.

Inside a small gray box on his neck, a microprocessor switches on to calculate and time stamp his location —  21:00, Dec. 2, 2016 — one of 56 readings made in the course of a week. The coordinates reveal the lion’s rambling course through this island of wilderness in the midst of the city.

As famous as he is, the mountain lion known as P-22 is a mystery, his day-to-day life hidden by his instincts for evasion.

The National Wildlife Federation has called the species a “nearly perfect predator,” and among the survival skills, fine-tuned over 40 million years of evolution, is a talent for invisibility.

What evolution did not prepare P-22 for is how to exist in an eight-square-mile urban park with more than 5 million human visitors a year. Most male cats have almost 20 times that space, nearly to themselves.

On this night, his ears twitch to a distant rustling, another creature’s lapse of caution. It comes from a steep gully, overgrown by willows.

P-22 turns his head in advance of the quick and deadly attack to come.

A few days before, in November, another lion had the same intention when he broke into the unsecured pens of two ranches in the Santa Monica Mountains, killing nearly a dozen alpacas and a goat.

The state wasted no time issuing a permit to kill P-45, and advocates rushed to champion the rights of the condemned cat.  At a public meeting a few days later, the crowd grew contentious.

When a man asked whether P-45 might be deviant or rogue for having killed so many animals in one night, the crowd booed and jeered.

When a woman proclaimed, “We are here because these animals cannot speak for themselves,” most in the group applauded.

An online petition — “Stop the permit to kill!” — drew more than 1,000 signatures from supporters as far away as Moscow and Cape Town.  The big cat was granted a reprieve.

The decision reflected the opinion of the biologist who matter-of-factly explained: “P-45 is a lion being a lion.”

The mountain lion’s offense would have met with less sympathy back when the cats ranged throughout Rancho Los Feliz and Elysian Park. It would have been seen as an opportunity for sport.

“There may be an element of excitement in stalking royal Bengal tigers in their native jungles, or pursuing the ivory tusked elephant in the sacred preserves of the Ahkood of Swat, but for exhilarating sport, lightly spiced with danger and possessing some other merits of consideration, hunting mountain lions within the city limits of Los Angeles stands preeminent.”

The Times’ account of the 1892 hunt continued with descriptions of the deep-voiced bay of the hounds, the cries and tootings from the tally-ho horn, the gunshots.

Mercy, let alone adulation, was not likely back then.

From the moment P-22 was discovered, he was a celebrity. His image soon adorned the cover of National Geographic. Writers opened at least six Twitter accounts in his name, feeding him lines with late-night flair: “I like free range organic kale-fed deer.” “Building a wall along our border with Burbank to keep out golden retrievers.”

The city honored him with a day of recognition (Oct. 22), and filmmakers are about to debut a documentary about his life with the grandiose title, “The Cat That Changed America.”

His residency, however, has not been without mishap.

He has ingested rat poison from eating smaller prey and contracted a bad case of mange.

Scientists recaptured P-22 in late March and, after noticing crusting on his fur and skin, treated him for mange.

He wandered into the crawl space of a home in Los Feliz and endured a day-long assault by authorities who peppered him with bean bags and tennis balls.

Months after turning up looking sickly and suffering from mange, Griffith Park’s resident mountain lion and unofficial mascot, P-22, is looking much healthier.

Then there was the incident a year ago with Killarney, the 14-year-old koala, who went missing from her enclosure at the Los Angeles Zoo. GPS data and a surveillance video put P-22 at the scene, and most assume the koala became a meal.

Like the best L.A. stories, his debut was captured on a camera. A team of researchers had been studying the movement of wildlife in and out of Griffith Park, seeing plenty of deer, bobcats and coyotes. Then came the surprise.

Eyes fluorescing from the flash, P-22 is frozen in time — Feb. 12, 2012, 9:15 p.m. — on a game trail above the Ford Amphitheatre, gaze turned to the left, scouring the brush.

P-22, the mountain lion in Griffith Park, is photographed using a remote camera in February 2012.

Four weeks later, the young cat lay anesthetized in the pre-dawn darkness above Lake Hollywood. His captor, National Park Service wildlife biologist Jeff Sikich, put him at 120 pounds, nearly 6½ feet from nose to tail.

Sikich drew blood, tagged his ears, placed a GPS collar around his neck and let him go.

The collar calculates P-22’s location eight times a day when the receiver kicks in for up to 180 seconds and picks up the signals from orbiting satellites. They relay his location to one of 24 ground stations around the world.

A computer in Berlin, owned by Vectronic Aerospace, stores the information, which Sikich accesses from his office in Thousand Oaks.

P-22’s whereabouts arrive as numbered coordinates corresponding to locations in the park. The time stamp allows Sikich to trace his daily meanderings.

On this chill December night, P-22 continues to follow the rustling in the willows. The faint and primordial sound stands out from the city’s white noise.

Zoo Drive and the 134 Freeway are just a drainage away. Cars and trucks thrum the concrete and asphalt. Horns honk. Sirens bleat.

With ghost-like stealth, P-22 moves within striking distance.

This aptitude for ambush explains why the debate and fear over big cats are so raw.

The first recorded mountain lion attack on a human in California occurred near San Jose on July 6, 1909, when a big cat mauled Isola Kennedy, the daughter of a temperance worker, despite her attempts to fend off the attack with a hatpin.

She and a young companion died of injuries and infection.

In 1986, a lion attacked two young children in Orange County. Severely injured, they survived, but it was the first of nearly a dozen more attacks in the state.

With each assault came the question of whether these perfect predators and humans could co-exist. Yet many biologists feel that the success of P-22 in Griffith Park — and of other lions living in close proximity to other urban areas throughout the West — proves that we can.

This National Park Service photograph shows P-22. The mountain lion is believed to have come from the Santa Monica Mountains, which would mean he crossed both the 405 and the 101 freeways to get to Griffith Park.

Gullies and thickets conceal his circuit, a routine no different than any other male lion’s: sleeping by day and, by night, hunting, warding off rivals, looking for a mate.

Days earlier, he wandered along the western border. The lights of Universal City and Warner Brothers reflected in his eyes.

Dropping into Coyote Canyon, he skirted Hollywood Knolls, its homes looking out toward the eastern sweep of the Valley. He heard dogs barking and cars and motorcycles accelerating on Barham Boulevard and the 101.

Later he wandered among the dead at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, a celebrity among celebrities. Deer and other prey are drawn to the flowers left in the cemetery and to the willows and sycamores covering Sennett Creek, and the lion has killed there before.

That night, though, he crossed through Mount Sinai Memorial Park and out toward Oak Canyon. With his long hind legs and powerful haunches, he can leap as high as 15 feet and as far as 40 feet, so few fences or walls are an impediment.

In the morning, he settled himself in the brush, not far from the terraces and plantings of Amir Dialameh, the Iranian emigre who restored this fire-ravaged portion of the park.

How P-22 got into Griffith Park is anyone’s guess. Researchers believe he was born in the Santa Monica Mountains. His father was P-1, and by the age of 2, he had a choice: Stay and fight for this territory or find new ground for himself.

Some have him bounding across the 405, but he might have found a tunnel and sidestepped the freeway construction after Carmageddon in 2011. Then came the walled estates, the canyon parks and Mulholland Highway before he discovered the Lakeridge or possibly the Pilgrimage bridge across the Hollywood Freeway.

Once in the park, he found enough deer and smaller prey to sustain him.

He has tried to catch the attention of female mountain lions with scratchings in the dirt, raked piles of leaves marked by urine, feces, secretions, and with an occasional purr and chirp. But there has only been silence in return, not the coupling that researchers describe almost lyrically, when a male and female lion’s GPS coordinates nearly merge and stay together for a week or so.

Biologists are surprised that P-22 has remained as long as he has in Griffith Park and have concluded that the cat recognizes the risk of leaving. Still it is possible that one day his instinctual drive to mate will lead him out of the park.

The isolation and the wanderlust of Southern California’s mountain lions do not bode well for the species.

“Pumas in areas like the Santa Monicas, the Santa Anas and especially the postage stamp of Griffith Park, are betting against the house,” says UC Davis biologist Walter Boyce. “In the long run, the house always wins.”

Orion’s belt, three pricks of light not quite lost in the city’s luminous glow, clears the ridgeline to the east.

P-22 strikes. Flexor muscles extend inch-long claws into the soft tissue of a raccoon.

He bites into the back of the mammal’s neck, severing the spinal cord with a jaw strength that few other creatures can match.

With the limp body hanging from his mouth, he disappears into the brush, where he licks the fur off its skin, tears the flesh and gnashes through bone with his sharp teeth. He prefers the muscles, the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver — tissue and organs most rich in blood and fat — to the stomach and intestines.

He takes his time with the quarry, burying it and wandering off, then returning to eat.

By the time he is finished, there’s little left other than a mound of hair, a paw and the small Halloween mask of its face, remnants that Sikich and his colleague, Seth Riley, discover when they trace the lion’s route a week later.

While biologists marvel at P-22’s ability to adapt, they want to make it easier for other mountain lions. They hope that one day a wildlife bridge will span the 101 at Liberty Canyon, so that lions and other species can wander between the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills and the Santa Susana Mountains. The goal is to connect these smaller enclaves with the Los Padres National Forest where there is greater genetic diversity.

There is an urgency to this hope.

On the second day after  P-22’s raccoon kill, a lion labeled P-39 tried to run north across the 118 Freeway near Chatsworth. A vehicle hit her. The impact knocked her collar off, and her body was recovered by Caltrans.

Within six weeks, two of her three blue-eyed cubs had also been struck down on that freeway.

At 01:00, Dec. 5, P-22’s collar switches on. He is south of Mt. Lee, heading toward Beachwood Drive.

To the west is the Hollywood sign, to the east the Observatory, and to the south, haze smudges the city streets and distant skyscrapers.

Wildlife ecologist Seth Riley, right, and Jeff Sikich, a biologist for the National Park Service, walk through a tunnel used by P-22 as the mountain lion makes his way around the north end of Griffith Park and neighboring properties. The pair use maps and data from a radio collar worn by P-22 to observe his travels.

He cuts southwest to Lake Hollywood and makes his way through a break in the 10-foot tall fence, reaching the secluded watershed. Pines, deodars, toyon and laurel provide cover as he waits for deer to wander close.

He’s completed a seven-day circumnavigation of the park.

Ingenuity in the name of survival isn’t unique to P-22, but he is the luckiest.

Since 2002 when National Park Service biologists started studying mountain lions in Southern California, eight have been killed by other mountain lions, six have been killed by cars or trucks, three have died of anticoagulant poisoning and three cubs have died of starvation and abandonment.

One cat, P-15, was found with his head and paws cut off. A promised reward never flushed out the hunters.

As for P-22, he is getting old, almost 7. Mountain lions seldom live longer than 10 years in the wild. His collar has a mortality sensor that alerts Sikich and Riley if he has not moved in 12 hours.

So far, the absence of that signal reassures them that the city still has room for the big cat to roam.

Posted in Environment, Federal NPS, History, Los Angeles, Mountain Lions, Santa Monica Mountains, Simi Valley, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Are you up to the 2017 Conejo Open Space Challenge this spring?

The Conejo Open Space Foundation is challenging mountain bikers, hikers, trail runners and equestrians of all ages to experience 14 of the best and most beautiful multi-use trails in the Conejo Open Space. This is a “virtual” event, where you take photos along trails and tweet, Instagram or e-mail them in for validation to show you have completed trail segments.  Alternatively, you can e-mail links to GPS tracks indicating completion. The Challenge starts March 1st and runs through to May 31st.

The goal is to create a unique fundraiser event to benefit the Conejo Open Space Conservation Agency (COSCA) on open space property that involves all trail users from people completely unfamiliar with the trails to long time veterans.  COSCA is the organization entrusted with the responsibility of preserving, protecting and managing open space resources in the Conejo Valley, and manages and maintains all of the trails featured in this event.  For more information about COSCA visit: www.conejo-openspace.org.  Please consider supporting COSCA by making a tax deductible donation to the Conejo Open Space Foundation www.cosf.org/website/html/support.html and by participating in one of their many volunteer opportunities available throughout the year.

And please remember…

  1. This isn’t a race, but a challenge to complete all of the segments during the specified time.
  2. Please follow all open space rules posted at trailheads.
  3. Please do not ride/hike when the trails are muddy as it damages the trails.
  4. How you experience the trails – on foot, wheels, or horseback, or any combination of the three – is totally up to you.
  5. Tweet photos to @COSchallenge or e-mail them to conejochallenge@gmail.com for validation. You are also welcome to e-mail GPS tracks to verify completion.
  6. This year we are adding an Instagram Contest – rules on the back of this flyer.
  7. All participants who complete the segments by May 31st will be entered into a raffle for prizes donated by our sponsors. There will be additional prizes for the three best overall photos (best photo winners don’t need to complete all segments to be eligible for prizes).

Prizes include a pair of shoes from RoadRunner Sports, products from REI and Newbury Park Bike Shop, and gift cards from JOi Café and Billy D’z BBQ!

How to Participate

  1. Get out your camera, smartphone, or GPS device (and hiking boots, running shoes, bike, or horse).
  2. Refer to the hyperlinks with each trail to get maps.
  3. Ride, Hike, Run or Horseback ride all of the trail segments in the challenge between March 1st and May 31st.
  4.  For validation, (1) tweet your photos with the tag @coschallenge, or (2) e-mail your trail photos, or (3) e-mail links to GPS tracks to Steve Bacharach at conejochallenge@gmail.com.
  5. Follow us on Instagram @coschallenge, Snap a photo on any of the featured trails in the 2017 Open Space Challenge in the Conejo Open Space, Share your submission(s) using #conejoopenspace #roadrunnersports #cosca40th #conejoopenspace40th and @coschallenge and be sure to tell your friends so you get more likes, Win a pair of shoes from Road Runner Sports. Entries are judged on a mix of creativity and number of likes… so spread the word about your submission(s).
  6. Please consider supporting COSCA by making a tax deductible donation to the Conejo Open Space Foundation http://www.cosf.org/donate/ and by participating in one of the many volunteer opportunities available throughout the year.
  7. Win awesome prizes donated by our sponsors.
  8. Attend our event post-party (more info later).

Download the 2017 Open Space Challenge flyer.

Posted in Activities, Conejo Valley, COSCA/CRPD, Hiking, Horse Riding, Mountain Biking, Trail Running | Leave a comment

3 Coyotes attack leashed mastiff in Glendora

City will provide funding to trap and euthanize the animals.

Source of this article: The Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2017

The city of Glendora will provide funds for the trapping and euthanization of three coyotes that attacked a leashed dog in a housing development tract this week, city officials said in a statement.

Officials said a Glendora resident was walking her mastiff on a leash near Snapdragon Lane and Elderberry Drive at around 8:15 a.m. Tuesday. The former Monrovia Nursery location is now the construction site for La Colina Estates, a development consisting of 121 single-family homes.

As the dog and its owner were walking, “a coyote attacked the dog seemingly without reason,” according to a city statement, and two other coyotes joined in.

“The coyotes were fended off by the resident, who threw rocks at the three coyotes, and a witness who assisted by clapping her hands and yelling at the coyotes,” the statement said.

The dog suffered minor puncture wounds to his neck and will be examined by a veterinarian and quarantined pending the results of blood tests, city officials said. The dog is expected to make a full recovery.

The coyote encounter was investigated by the Glendora Police Department along with the Inland Valley Humane Society, and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife has been notified, according to the city.

“As a result of this incident occurring in broad daylight, with a large pet and a human in close proximity, the City of Glendora has decided it is necessary to take reactive action,” officials said.

The city has contracted with a professional trapping company that will trap and euthanize the animals. The traps, which are “designed so that they will not harm unintended wildlife,” will be deployed Wednesday near the site of the attack and in other locations determined by the trapping company, officials said.

Posted in Los Angeles, Other, Southern California, Trail Hazard, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Respecting the force of Mother Nature

Commentary: When the rains come

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, January 26, 2017

Risk is a fact of life for outdoors enthusiasts, and smart people know they should always weigh the pros and cons when they venture into the wild.

In Southern California this winter—with an onslaught of powerful rainstorms arriving in rapid succession—residents are reveling in the abundant moisture.

But the running creeks, waterfalls, slick boulders, puddle-filled depressions, eroded slippery trails, rock slides and other hazards related to heavy rains have been absent for so long that it’s time to take a refresher course in confronting a natural world that has come explosively alive.

DANGER—Last week’s mega rainstorm brought flooding to local streets and fast-flowing volume to creeks and waterfalls. The National Weather Service says 5 inches of rain fell in Thousand Oaks last week. During the same period last year, 0.14 inches fell. This torrent, normally a trickle or even completely dry, blocks the Canyon View Trail below Sandstone Peak.

DANGER—Last week’s mega rainstorm brought flooding to local streets and fast-flowing volume to creeks and waterfalls. The National Weather Service says 5 inches of rain fell in Thousand Oaks last week. During the same period last year, 0.14 inches fell. This torrent, normally a trickle or even completely dry, blocks the Canyon View Trail below Sandstone Peak.

At the height of a storm, a dry stream bed can become a dangerous and unforgiving torrent, its frothing, tumbling water laden with visible debris as well as unseen submerged rocks. The deafening roar of water may thrill us, but it should not blind us to the extreme hazard posed.

Folks angling for a “memorable” photograph need to be aware of how slippery footing can lead to far more than a twisted ankle. Falling into these newly fledged waterfalls and rapids can cause serious injury, including broken bones, hypothermia, head trauma and drowning.

When National Park Service properties as well as community parks post a sign announcing, “Area closed due to wet conditions,” residents should heed, not ignore, the warning.

The signs serve a dual purpose— to protect natural resources and to safeguard the welfare of outdoors lovers. Trails may be compromised if not inundated by runoff, and usage by equestrians, bicyclists and hikers only compounds the damage. Trail users also pose a risk to themselves when they challenge these sodden, unstable conditions

Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks and Oak Canyon Community Park in Oak Park are among the area parks that have posted closure signs.

The park service wants hikers, bikers and climbers to know that just as “red flag” postings during fire season mean “stay off parkland,” the same is true for wet weather warnings.

During severe weather, be a responsible steward of our local, state and national parks and take a pass on going out.

There will simply never be enough rangers available to patrol all the daredevil-tempting attractions, many of which are located deep in canyon bottoms where creeks flow furiously through a maze of house-size boulders.

Trained swift-water rescue specialists and members of search and rescue teams are among the most heroic individuals, but they can’t be expected to be everywhere at once.

We need to use sense and exercise caution when out in the wet and wild.

Yes, it is undeniably exciting that rain has returned to our parched lives. But rain, and even more rain, is a powerfully transforming force.

When the thirsty earth can no longer absorb moisture, the moisture runs off—not in gentle dribbles but in gushing floodwaters.

Gauge the situation, wait for the worst weather to subside, and even then wait a few days longer before exploring.

Observe from a safe distance, always be aware of your surroundings as well as your footing, and be super diligent in monitoring the children and pet dogs in your party.

Best reminder to tape to your fridge or dashboard: Nature shows no mercy for reckless fools—and winter is not always a wonderland.

Posted in California State Parks, Conejo Valley, COSCA/CRPD, Drought, Federal NPS, Health and Safety, Hiking, Horse Riding, Mountain Biking, Santa Monica Mountains, Southern California, Trail Access, Trail Hazard, Ventura County | Leave a comment

NPS launches ‘bark patrol’ in Santa Monica Mountains

Pet etiquette on trails is the focus

Source of this article: The Thousand Oaks Acorn, December 15, 2016

A new pack of volunteers will soon hit the trails in the Santa Monica Mountains to show visitors and their dogs how they can safely enjoy the outdoors.

With hundreds of miles of walking, cycling and equestrian paths, the Santa Monica Mountains and surrounding backcountry are a magnet for people who enjoy communing with nature.

TEACH, SPOT, TEACH—Owners and their dogs can join the new Bark Rangers program. “What we want to do is build a group of role models who will demonstrate responsible dog walking in the recreation area,” says Zach Behrens, a spokesperson for the National Park Service.

TEACH, SPOT, TEACH—Owners and their dogs can join the new Bark Rangers program. “What we want to do is build a group of role models who will demonstrate responsible dog walking in the recreation area,” says Zach Behrens, a spokesperson for the National Park Service.

The Bark Rangers volunteer group will help educate visitors about proper dog etiquette on mountain trails.

“People love bringing along their dogs. But we do receive a lot of feedback from users, both dog owners and non-dog owners, about off-leash dogs and dogs not picked up after,” said Zach Behrens, a spokesperson for the National Park Service.

“So what we want to do is build a group of role models who will demonstrate responsible dog walking in the recreation area. The ultimate goal is to protect everyone’s pets and the ecosystem at the same time,” Behrens said.

Leashed dogs are allowed in national parks and other public lands, but they are not permitted on state park trails such as those in Malibu Creek.

Besides making sure owners and their pets follow park rules, the trail volunteers may be called on to provide first aid to injured hikers and bikers.

Dog2Other volunteer opportunities are available for individuals and groups who want to donate their time and talent to help preserve open space and assist visitors.

The volunteers can contribute in many ways. They can patrol trails on horseback or mountain bike, help restore native habitat or volunteer to work at the park service visitor center. They can also assist with administrative duties and educational programs for youths.

David Szymanski, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said local residents are devoted to safeguarding open spaces and helping others make the most of their outdoor adventures.

About 7,000 volunteers donated almost 100,000 hours in 2016.

“People love their Santa Monica Mountains, and it really showed this past year when we broke records in number of volunteers and the hours they put in,” Szymanski said.

Those numbers translated to a 35 percent increase in volunteers and a 20 percent increase in donated hours over the previous year. If those volunteer hours were performed by paid staff members, the estimated cost would be $2.3 million.

A mandatory basic training for all the new volunteers will take place Jan. 21, followed by Bark Ranger training on a date to be announced.

Applications must be submitted online before Jan. 7 at https://www.nps.gov/samo/getinvolved/volunteer.htm.

Newcomers will get free training as well as park tours and off-site field trips to broaden their knowledge and enhance their volunteer experience. They are also expected to build upon their own knowledge of parklands and trails, agency philosophies, operations and policy.

Posted in Federal NPS, Hiking, Santa Monica Mountains | Leave a comment

Access now legal to Matilija Falls

The Matilija Canyon Trail, closed since the Spring of 2010, is open again for hiking.

Source of this article: Condor Call, Journal of Los Padres Chapter Sierra Club, Oct-Nov 2016

IMG_3108adjThe highly popular trek to the seven Matilija Falls is now legally open and the Sierra Club has an outing planned on Nov. 19 so you can see this amazing area.

After many years of trying, a coalition of local trail users and conservation groups announced an agreement on Sept. 21 to restore permanent public access to the falls, which also launches the possibility to buy an 80-acre parcel along Matilija Creek for eventual transfer to the U.S. Forest Service.

National forests are a public resource that should be accessible to all of us, and the community will now be able to access this majestic canyon in perpetuity,” said Los Padres ForestWatch executive director Jeff Kuyper.

The pact was signed by the landowner, the Bonsall family, and members of a community association called Keep Access to Matilija Falls Open (“KAMFO”) and filed in Ventura County Superior Court.

KAMFO will reconstruct one mile of the trail along its historic location east of the creek, install signs and remove illegal campfire rings on private property outside of the trail easement. The Ojai Valley Land Conservancy has agreed to hold the easement.

IMG_3149The public has traveled the route for nearly a century, but in 2009, the landowner discouraged public access, leading to a 2015 lawsuit by KAMFO, represented pro bono by the firm Slaughter Reagan & Cole LLP.

Thousands of people visit the three big waterfalls in Matilija every year, you say? Okay, but do they visit the seven big waterfalls in Matilija?” asks David Stillman on his blogspot He then goes on to reveal “at least four more major waterfalls further upstream, including the grandest of all, the Lost Falls.”

The popular route that ends at the third waterfall, with its sheer surrounding amphitheater, is about a 9-mile round trip. After that it’s really hard and hikers will encounter dangerous terrain, so don’t hike it alone (very few people ever go beyond the third fall because of that).

The trailhead is nearly five miles along the Matilija Canyon Road off of Hwy 33 behind Ojai.

See the Nov. 19 Matilija Falls write-up in our outings section for details, which considers it a “moderate to strenuous 9 mrt hike.”

Posted in Hiking, History, Ojai Valley Land Conservancy, Trail Access, Ventura County | Leave a comment

To help cougars cross busy 101 Freeway, Annenberg Foundation promises to match donations for bridge

A push to raise funds for a wildlife overpass

Source of this article: The Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2016

Building a cougar crossing over one of Southern California’s busiest freeways will cost tens of millions of dollars — funding that is unlikely to come any time soon from the state’s transportation kitty.

National Park Service researchers discovered two litters of mountain lion kittens in the eastern Santa Susana Mountains in June 2016. A total of five kittens, three females and two males, were ear-tagged and returned to their respective dens.

National Park Service researchers discovered two litters of mountain lion kittens in the eastern Santa Susana Mountains in June 2016. A total of five kittens, three females and two males, were ear-tagged and returned to their respective dens.

So advocates have launched a campaign to raise private donations for a span over the 10-lane 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills that would provide safe passage to mountain lions and other wildlife moving between the Santa Monica Mountains and inland habitat.

The effort got a jump-start from the Annenberg Foundation on Wednesday when the philanthropy announced a challenge grant that will match every dollar, up to $1 million total, donated by other foundations.

Although best known for its education and arts funding, the foundation has supported animal-protection causes around the world and views the wildlife crossing as a way to improve the overall ecosystem, said foundation Executive Director Cinny Kennard.

The roughly 15 mountain lions that live in the Santa Monica range desperately need new blood. Isolated by freeways and urban development, adults are breeding with close relatives and losing the genetic diversity necessary for population survival.

A recent study by UCLA and National Park Service scientists concluded that the inbreeding leaves the local cougar population at risk of extinction within the next 50 years.

“It’s easy to think of Los Angeles as a concrete jungle. The truth is, we’re home to one of the most richly diverse ecosystems in the entire world,” Annenberg President Wallis Annenberg said in a statement. “We need to do more to protect our mountain lion population, to help them breed and thrive.”

A 2015 Caltrans report presented two alternatives for the 101 crossing, which would rise immediately west of Liberty Canyon Road.

A bridge that’s 165 feet wide and 200 feet long would cost $30 million to $35 million. A longer span over the freeway and Agoura Road —  the choice of wildlife advocates — would cost $50 million to $60 million.

“This is a capital campaign, just like a hospital,” said Molly Judge, the West Coast philanthropy director for the National Wildlife Federation, which is helping spearhead the drive for public and private funding.

Given California’s highway construction backlog, Judge said proponents are seeking state conservation money, rather than transportation funds. Last year, they obtained a $1-million grant from the California State Coastal Conservancy.

Backers want to raise $10 million from public and private sources by the end of next year to advance the project, which they hope to build by 2021.

The crossing would not help Southern California’s most celebrated mountain lion, P-22, who took up residency in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park after managing to cross not only the 101 Freeway but the 405 Freeway as well.

“What he’s accomplished is pretty powerful,” Judge said. “He’s become a figurehead for the movement to coexist with wildlife and to protect habitat.”

To call attention to the bridge initiative, which is part of the federation’s #SaveLACougars campaign, a team of advocates, scientists and government officials on Wednesday are beginning a four-day, 40-mile walk that will retrace P-22’s likely journey from the Santa Monicas to Griffith Park. The starting point is the site of the proposed cougar crossing.

Posted in Budget and Spending, Mountain Lions, Southern California | 1 Comment

Santa Monica Mountains hikers are urged to be aware of tarantulas

Ew! Creepy love game is afoot

Source of this article: The Los Angeles Times, September 9, 2016

Watch where you’re stepping while hiking in the Santa Monica Mountains this month. There may be an extra pair of legs (or four) on the path.

TarantulaIt’s the beginning of tarantula mating season, and the males are on the prowl.

According to the National Park Service, those big, furry arachnids that call the American Southwest home will be spending the better part of September and October weaving their webs of love just above ground, outside the female’s burrow.

Because females typically stay inside, if a hiker comes across a tarantula on a footpath, it’s probably a male on the lookout for a mate, experts say. Males have been known to search for up to four miles to find a female.

Though they have fangs and carry poison, tarantulas are not considered a serious threat to humans.

Regardless, park officials are urging hikers not to interrupt the spiders’ ritual. They move slowly so hikers can take pictures, but humans shouldn’t touch or otherwise harass the tarantulas, said Kate Kuykendall, a spokeswoman for the Santa Monica Mountains.

Time, especially for the males, is of the essence.

While female tarantulas can live for up to 25 years, the average lifespan of the male is only seven or eight years, so their annual chances to spread their genes is limited. As if that weren’t bad enough, female tarantulas have been known to eat the males if they linger too long after copulation.

According to the park service, mating occurs when the male approaches the female’s burrow and taps on the web strands outside the entrance. If the female is willing, she’ll come outside and receive his sperm, which he deposits on a web that she then receives and uses to fertilize her eggs.

She’ll then seal the eggs in a cocoon and guard them for six to nine weeks. Up to 1,000 tarantulas may hatch, according to National Geographic.

Posted in Federal NPS, Santa Monica Mountains, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Channel Island foxes removed from endangered species list

Fox tale with a happy ending

Source of this article, The Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2016

Not long ago, foxes native to the Channel Islands off the California coast teetered on the edge of extinction.

They have rebounded to the point where U.S. wildlife officials on Thursday removed three subspecies of island fox from the roster of federally endangered species, hailing their comeback as the fastest recovery of any mammal listed under the Endangered Species Act.

The diminutive foxes that roam San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Santa Cruz islands were placed on the endangered list in 2004 after their populations were nearly wiped out by golden eagles.

The Channel Islands' fox population has rebounded and now the animals are off the endangered species list. (Rory Stansbury / Island Conservation)

The Channel Islands’ fox population has rebounded and now the animals are off the endangered species list. (Rory Stansbury / Island Conservation)

Scientists credited the swift recovery to an effort to relocate predators and breed foxes in captivity so they can be reintroduced to the wild.

“We’re ecstatic that we’ve reached this point so quickly,” said Steve Henry, field supervisor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s office in Ventura.

About the size of a house cat, the island fox — with its gray coat and reddish-brown ears — is only found on six of the eight Channel Islands, where it has lived for thousands of years.

Populations have returned to self-sustaining levels ranging from an estimated 700 foxes on San Miguel Island to 2,100 foxes on Santa Cruz Island.

Long inhabited by Native Americans, the Channel Islands later became home to European explorers, ranchers, farmers and the military. Activities on the islands allowed nonnative animals such as pigs, sheep, deer and elk to flourish. Golden eagles migrated there after native, fish-eating bald eagles were wiped out by the dumping of the now-banned chemical DDT off the coast.

The golden eagles preyed on piglets and hunted foxes. By 2000, there were only 15 foxes each on San Miguel and Santa Rosa islands and 55 foxes on Santa Cruz Island.

The race to save the foxes began several years before they were listed as endangered. The wildlife service partnered with the National Park Service, Nature Conservancy and Catalina Island Conservancy to hatch an aggressive plan that included moving golden eagles to Northern California, reintroducing bald eagles to the islands, vaccinating foxes and breeding them in captivity.

The effort was not without controversy. Thousands of pigs were shot and killed, angering animal rights groups. Wildlife officials said eliminating pigs was necessary to force golden eagles to forage elsewhere and help the foxes bounce back.

The islands’ remoteness also played a key role in the foxes’ resurgence, giving scientists better control over recovery efforts than if they happened on the mainland.

Years ago, “you would not have seen a fox. Now, you go out there and you don’t have to wait very long before a fox crosses your path,” said Scott Morrison of the Nature Conservancy, which co-owns Santa Cruz Island.

Funding for the yearslong recovery came from public and private sources and included volunteer time. Officials did not have an estimate of the overall cost, but said the captive rearing and monitoring portions of the program cost about $20 million.

With the fox delisting, 19 animals and plants have been pulled from the endangered species list since President Obama took office, more than previous administrations, wildlife service director Dan Ashe said.

The last U.S. mammal to be removed from the list in record time was the eastern Steller sea lion in 2013 after more than two decades. Since the Endangered Species Act passed in 1973, 37 species have recovered.

Biologists planned to monitor foxes on the northern Channel Islands by conducting periodic health checks and tagging select foxes with radio collars.

Foxes on Santa Catalina Island — a tourist destination — also are recovering but not as fast as their counterparts on the northern Channel Islands. Their numbers plummeted in the 1990s after an outbreak of canine distemper, presumably brought over from the mainland.

Federal officials downgraded the status of the Catalina foxes from endangered to threatened because disease outbreak remains a concern.

Posted in Endangered Species, History, Southern California, Wildlife | Leave a comment

Mountain lions face ‘two evils’ in food hunt

L.A. pumas tend to get closer to urban areas – to avoid other cats.

Source of this article, The Los Angeles Times, July 17, 2016

Puma-22, a.k.a. P-22, feeds on a mule deer in Griffith Park. A new study finds that male and female mountain lions select different hunting grounds. (National Park Service)

In the hills and wooded areas of the Los Angeles area, mountain lions remain a constant, yet mostly unseen, presence.

But the predators may come closer to human areas to hunt than we previously realized, according to a recent study by UCLA and the National Park Service.

The study, published in PLOS One, tracked mountain lions in and around the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area to see where the predators like to hunt and kill their favorite food: mule deer.

Since 2002, the park service has monitored pings from GPS collars attached to 26 of the cats. Whenever the data revealed a puma lingering at the same location for much of the day, the researchers knew it had probably made a kill.

That’s when a researcher would head out, slog through the thick chaparral and to try to find the carcass. In the end, the researchers logged 420 mule deer kills.

P2The results offer new insights into how individual mountain lions respond to disruption from urban development and threats from within their own species.

Mountain lions, which can occupy ranges of up to 200 square miles for males and 75 square miles for females, prefer to hunt on steep slopes and in thick vegetation, which give them an advantage when sneaking up on prey.

Males tended to hunt and kill deer in wooded areas near creeks and rivers — habitats that attract plenty of deer.

But to avoid crossing paths with aggressive males, female pumas killed deer closer to developed areas — less than a mile or so away on average.

Urbanized landscapes may be the next best place to find deer outside the riparian woodland preferred by males. Artificial water sources like sprinklers and swimming pools help maintain lush vegetation for deer to munch on, even in drought conditions.

Mule deer are seen in Black Star Canyon in Orange County. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Mule deer are seen in Black Star Canyon in Orange County. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Approaching human-occupied areas isn’t without risks.

The plights of the Los Angeles area’s mountain lions are well-known. Many cats have been struck and killed by cars while attempting to cross freeways, or have been sickened or killed by rodent poison. Due to their isolation from other puma populations, they also face problems from inbreeding.

Within the study area, however, the leading cause of death for mountain lions was other mountain lions, said Seth Riley, a National Park Service wildlife ecologist and a co-author of the study.

Male mountain lions are known to kill fellow pumas in confrontations over prey carcasses, and the problem may be exacerbated in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Typically, males disperse and adopt their own home ranges. But in these mountains, the predators are held in close quarters by freeways and development, Riley said.

“We’ve had virtually no evidence of young males being able to disperse, so many of [them] end up getting killed by close relatives, like their father or brother,” Riley said.

It’s possible the risk to a female or her young of being attacked by a male is greater than the risks posed by venturing near humans, said wildlife ecologist John Benson.

“It could be sort of the lesser of two evils,” said Benson, who led the study as a postdoctoral researcher at UCLA’s La Kretz Center of California Conservation.

P-34 is photographed in a backyard in Newbury Park, Calif., in December 2014. The mountain lion was found dead of rodenticide poisoning less than a year later. (Sherry Kempster via Acorn Newspapers)

P-34 is photographed in a backyard in Newbury Park, Calif., in December 2014. The mountain lion was found dead of rodenticide poisoning less than a year later. (Sherry Kempster via Acorn Newspapers)

While some mountain lions came closer to urban environments than the researchers expected, only two actually made kills within developed areas, the study authors noted.

In general, Benson said, mountain lions seem to avoid contact with humans.

“It doesn’t seem like they’re needing to go into backyards or anything like that,” Benson said.

Mountain lions that live near dense urban landscapes, such as Griffith Park or Verdugo Hills, avoided the area by hunting farther away from people. The cats that lived in more remote areas were more willing to approach human settlements to hunt.

“Continued development in areas used by mountain lions adjacent to Los Angeles and other metropolitan areas could reduce the quality of foraging habitat for mountain lions,” the study’s authors suggest.

Benson said focusing on individual-level differences in mountain lions will go a long way toward understanding the animals and ultimately conserving the species.

“A mountain lion isn’t just a mountain lion in the L.A. area, he said. “Its behavior will be a function both of who it is … and also the environment it interacts with.”

Given the challenges they face, Riley said, it’s amazing that mountain lions still live around Los Angeles.

“It really is a testament to the amount of open space people have been able to conserve in Southern California,” he said.

Posted in Conejo Valley, Los Angeles, Mountain Lions, Santa Monica Mountains, Ventura County | Leave a comment