Mountain Lions Expanding Their Range Across The US

Mountain lions, once nearing extinction due to extensive hunting and habitat destruction, are making a notable comeback across the United States. These elusive and adaptable predators are now spreading faster and farther than many people might realize. State game agencies estimate the mountain lion population in the U.S. to be between 20,000 and 40,000, while conservation groups like the Mountain Lion Foundation suggest the number is closer to 30,000.

Primarily found in the western states, mountain lions occupy diverse habitats, from the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest to the arid deserts of the Southwest. Notable populations exist in states like California, Colorado, and Arizona, where conservation efforts are focused on mitigating human-wildlife conflicts and preserving habitats. Colorado alone is home to approximately 7,000 mountain lions.

Despite common beliefs, sightings are not limited to the western United States. Several eastern states, including Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New York, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, have confirmed mountain lion sightings. These sightings suggest that some breeding populations may exist east of the Mississippi River, challenging the notion that these big cats are confined to the West.

Mountain lions are highly adaptable and have been seen in a variety of environments, from the Pacific Northwest rainforests to the Florida Everglades. In California, where hunting bans have led to a decrease in their natural fear of humans, mountain lions have been spotted near human habitations. This loss of fear can lead to dangerous encounters.

To coexist safely with these apex predators, it is crucial for humans to understand how to deal with them. If confronted by a mountain lion, it is advised to make oneself appear larger and more intimidating by raising arms and shouting. If armed, firing a shot into the ground can often scare the animal away, though being prepared to use the weapon is wise. Situational awareness and understanding that humans are part of nature, not separate from it, are key to avoiding unpleasant encounters.

Mountain lions, much like coyotes and black bears, are reclaiming their former territories. This resurgence can be seen as a positive development for biodiversity, provided that people learn to adapt to their presence and take appropriate precautions to ensure safety.