Mountain lions have lived in the mountains of Santa Cruz for centuries, but some experts believe that cannabis cultivation could put an end to their once-thriving population.
Chris Wilmers is an ecologist at UC Santa Cruz and head of the Puma Project. Along with others, Wilmers has been tracking and studying local mountain lions in the area since 2008. He believes that cannabis cultivation could be spell impending danger for mountain lions in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Increased Infrastructure Is Expected to Push Mountain Lions Out of Their Natural Habitat
Wilmers is worried that increased cannabis cultivation sites will significantly impact mountain lions in the area. First, he believes that a larger population of humans and increased infrastructure will cause mountain lions to migrate somewhere else. Humans are highly unfavorable to mountain lions, and with the influx of more people, Wilmers believes lions in the area will instinctively abandon their natural habitat.
“Adding infrastructure will negatively affect mountain lions,” Wilmers says. “This drives them away more permanently.”
According to Dan Mar, co-creator of the Regenerative Cannabis Farming Award presented at the Emerald Cup, “Presently the greatest threat to wildlife related to cannabis farming, especially related to upland watersheds, is habitat fragmentation. Animals are losing their habitats to development, and that has a ripple effect. It will affect prey species up and down the food web until it hits upper level predators like mountain lions.”
Mar believes that electrical generators used to power rural marijuana farms in the area could also be to blame. They’re what scares off birds of prey, like owls or hawks, he says. When the food chain begins to dwindle because of human involvement, so does the population of mountain lions.
Toxic Chemicals Used to Kill Rodents Pose Problem to California Lions
Mountain lions losing their natural habitats isn’t the only thing experts are worried about. Rodenticides and pesticides are another problem. A sick rodent will inadvertently affect the predator that consumes it.
Another concern of Wilmers’ is currently banned anticoagulant-based rodent killers. Intended to kill crop-infesting rodents over a period of up to 10 days, these rodents become easy (poisoned) prey for mountain lions in the area looking for a meal. Most toxic rodent killers are banned in California, but Wilmers says a number of the lions he has studied have been exposed to rodenticides.
“Whether they are officially banned or not people will use them,” Wilmers says. “There is no way to regulate hundreds of grow operations in the mountains. If a regulator comes you just conceal the baits or you only put them out once in a while or only at night.”