Moving Endangered Wildlife to Save Them

Reindeer in Montana     Photo: Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks via The Washington Post

The population of wild reindeer in the United States had, according to The Washington Post, dwindled down to one last female roaming between Canada, Idaho and northeastern Washington state. In an effort to save her from perishing alone in the wilderness, wildlife managers in British captured the female and now have her in captivity with three other “reindeer refugees,” where they hope she will be able to survive.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles conservationists are considering a plan to capture Southern California mountain lions (also known as pumas or cougars) living in urban areas and moving them across two major freeways (California Highways 15 and 101) to the east into the Santa Monica and Santa Ana mountains where they can breed with another population living on the less populous side of the freeways. Translocation is seen as the best way to save this genetic group because the highways act as impenetrable barriers isolating the groups, and according to a new study, they are vulnerable to fire, disease and deadly human interactions, which could lead to an “extinction vortex.” The translocation plan will require a special exemption from a state law that bans the capture of mountain lions, but in this case, according to the study, it appears to be the best option to keep this population from becoming extinct in the next 50 years.  The other option for the Southern California mountain lions is special bridges for them to cross the freeways, but those are costly.

Why This Matters: Extinction is forever. It is hard to imagine the Pacific Northwest without reindeer and the mountains of Southern California without the mountain lion. These translocation options are controversial – in California, some conservation groups prefer the bridge option, but others are open to it.  The biggest threat is further development — in California it is housing, and in the Pacific Northwest it is protection from snowmobilers. The U.S. government in 2011 proposed protecting more than 375,000 acres for reindeer, but after opposition from snowmobilers and others, it cut that down to about 30,000 acres. After that decision was challenged by environmentalists, a federal court ordered the government to reconsider but that decision is still pending.  This President says that he wants to defend Christmas, but perhaps not its iconic symbol.  Bah humbug.

To Go Deeper: This story from the LA Times explains why the mountain lions are in trouble and the research around saving them.

A female mountain lion in Santa Monica Mountains    Photo: National Park Service

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