Mountain Lion

Mountain Lion Conservation Research

Status Update

In the densely populated Bay Area, Midpen preserves provide critical remaining habitat for native wildlife, such as mountain lions, and nearby nature for people. Midpen began new mountain lion conservation research in the fall of 2020 to learn more about how mountain lions use open space lands also frequently visited by people. The results will help guide Midpen’s science-based land management.

    Natural Resources Protection and Restoration
    Natural Resources
    illustration of a notebook with images of animals on cover

    Potential Preserve Closures

    The Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District is partnering with the UCSC Puma Project on a five-year study to better understand factors that influence human-mountain lion interactions and to develop a science-based management plan to help people and mountain lions safely coexist. Over the next few years, certain Midpen preserves may occasionally be closed for one to four days to allow the Puma Project to safely conduct research in the area.

    Closures may now occur at the preserves listed below April 2 - 19. The preserves may be closed on short notice and will not occur on a Saturday or Sunday. 

    • El Corte de Madera
    • La Honda
    • Los Trancos
    • Monte Bello
    • Purisima Creek
    • Rancho San Antonio
    • Russian Ridge
    • Sierra Azul
    • Windy Hill

    Potential closures will be posted on the website in advance. To receive email notifications about preserve closures, join our email list and choose the preserves for which you want to receive notifications. We will send notifications the evening before a closure.

    mountain lion

    Mountain lions, also known as pumas and cougars, play an important role as keystone predators in our local ecosystem. Their primary food source is deer, but they can also prey on smaller animals like raccoons, rabbits and even wild turkeys.

    Find out how to identify a mountain lion, what to do if you encounter one and how to stay safe on the trails.


    Projects are underway in several Midpen preserves to study:

    • Mountain lion movement and habitat use
    • Factors influencing mountain lion behavior
    • Strategies to help people and mountain lions coexist

    Stay informed!

    Sign up to receive project updates and notifications about natural resources management.

    Human-Mountain Lion Interaction Study

    Midpen is working in partnership with the Santa Cruz Puma Project and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in preserves with high visitation. We are fitting mountain lions with temporary tracking collars that provide GPS information similar to fitness trackers. The collars do not adversely affect the mountain lions and automatically fall off after a designated amount of time. This science is humanely conducted and is aimed at the long-term conservation of these important native predators. 

    Collaring began in Midpen's Rancho San Antonio and Monte Bello open space preserves in December 2020. The collaring effort may eventually expand to other highly visited preserves, including Fremont Older and Picchetti Ranch and other preserves. 

    Behavior Modification Study

    While mountain lions generally flee the sound of human voices, some that live near heavily populated areas may become used to human noise and traffic making them less likely to follow their instincts and avoid humans. In the next phase of the research study, the Puma Project will be testing safe and humane ways to encourage mountain lions to avoid human contact to reduce human-lion conflicts. Although attacks by mountain lions are rare and are generally not fatal to humans, mountain lions that attack humans are almost always euthanized. Mountain lions that attack humans are considered a human safety risk and are euthanized by California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) to protect the public.

    To reinforce their instinctual fear of humans, Puma Project researchers will attempt to associate human voices with behavior modification methods to encourage collared mountain lions in the study to avoid humans. Collared mountain lions will be carefully monitored to quantify the response to these actions to determine if behavior modification can be used as an effective management tool to keep mountain lions wild.

    Learn more about some of the mountain lions in Midpen preserves

    To date, three mountain lions have been collared for this study in Midpen preserves. Two additional mountain lions with territories that overlap with Midpen preserves have also been collared and are being tracked as part of the study.

    There are a number of collared lions within the Santa Cruz Mountains and the data captured from these lions will allow for direct comparisons between lion behavior in areas with high levels of human activity and other locations where human activity is lower. 


    Wildlife Camera Study

    In the fall of 2020, Midpen biologists began using a scientific grid system of motion-activated still cameras, currently only in Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, to learn more about the movement, abundance and diversity of mountain lions and other wildlife. Cameras are positioned and used for wildlife research only. 

    Learn more about the camera study, see some of the first images and let us know about your interest in volunteering on the Wildlife Photo Index Research Project web page.

    Watch Midpen Resource Management Specialist Matt Sharp Chaney's presentation on mountain lion conservation research.

    Midpen supports effort to protect mountain lions

    Highway 17 Crossings

    Midpen’s nearly 70,000 acres of preserved public open space provide prime habitat for mountain lions, a top predator in our region facing many challenges in our region. We’re working to protect regional mountain lion populations by preserving habitat, increasing habitat connectivity through the Highway 17 Wildlife Crossing Project, promoting rodenticide regulations and supporting research that improves our understanding of lion populations, ecology and behavior throughout our region of influence.