Mountain lions (cougars, pumas, and more) are among the top predators that live in the United States. These powerful, majestic creatures once lived across much of the country but have since been killed or pushed out of most of it. Still, these resilient animals reside in secluded areas across the United States, with current data suggesting they may even be returning to their historical regions! Today, we are going to explore the 15 US states that have mountain lions, plus a few others that may have some. Let’s get started!
The 15 US States That Have Mountain Lions
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Now on to the list!
The state of Arizona is home to a large, stable population of mountain lions. The rocky habitat that covers much of the state is perfect for these ambush predators, especially since humans don’t inhabit much of the land. In many regions, the population within the state is actually increasing!
Arkansas isn’t somewhere that we would generally think of when looking for mountain lions, but they are on the rebound! There is a small breeding population in the state, despite being killed off in the 1920s. This is huge news for conservationists around the country and a sign that cougars may be heading east once again.
The Golden State has one of the largest populations of mountain lions in the country. The large, undeveloped interior filled with rocky habitats perfect for mountain lions allows them to safely live and breed. Additionally, California banned the hunting of cougars back in 1972, encouraging population growth.
As a state known for its mountains, it’s no wonder that mountain lions live here! Colorado has a large number of mountain lions within its borders, mostly due to the high elk population, dense forests, and isolated mountain ranges. Colorado is the perfect habitat for mountain lions.
Florida is the only state on the east coast with a breeding population of mountain lions. The Florida panther is an endemic subspecies of cougar that has lived in the everglades region for a very long time. They have almost been killed off a few times, but conservation efforts have helped to keep their numbers stable.
The state of Idaho is large, expansive, and full of rocky wilderness. This ideal habitat allows for a large population of 2,000 mountain lions to thrive. Sadly, the hunting guidelines on cougars in Idaho are lax, with 400-600 cats being killed each year. Mountain lion populations struggle to outpace the high hunting limits.
About half of the state of Montana is ideal for mountain lions, primarily her western and central regions. Hunting is legal in the state, but it is heavily controlled and restricted.
The mountain lion population in Nevada is essential to the control of deer and rodent populations in the mountainous regions of the state. Since mountain lions are the top predators (unlike most other states with grizzly bears), they have a well-developed population.
New Mexico: 3,500
Like Arizona, New Mexico is the perfect home for mountain lions. The large tracts of untouched rocky land and bighorn sheep populations make for pristine mountain lion habitat. Controlled hunting of mountain lions is allowed within the state.
Oregon has a large, stable breeding population of mountain lions. The mountains and isolated forests of the state allow these large cats to live their lives without encountering humans very often. There are controlled hunting laws in the state of Oregon.
South Dakota: 200-300
The reintroduction of mountain lions into South Dakota is one of the great wins of modern conservation. After a small population was reintroduced into their historic land, their population has grown to a stable and breeding group of between 200-300 individuals.
The state of Texas is home to many mountain lion populations, but the numbers are incredibly hard to find. They mostly live in the far western Trans-Pecos region of the state, with about 50,000 to 80,000 acres of suitable land currently being used by the cat. There isn’t an official estimate on mountain lions in the state.
There are deserts, mountains, and swamps in the state of Utah, all of which are suitable for mountain lions. Most of the native mountain lions live in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park, but humans rarely ever see them due to their secretive nature.
Mountain lions live almost everywhere in the state of Washington. The Cascade Mountains are an important habitat for mountain lions in the region, and a stable population lives within the state. Hunting is legal, but the use of dogs was banned in 1996.
Wyoming has a historically stable population of mountain lions, but recent drops in numbers have caused some to worry. The hunting policy of the state may be the cause of the dropping population, and pressure on the Fish and Game Commission has increased.
Mountain Lions: Sightings vs Populations vs Transient Travelers
If you’ve done any research on your own, you may have noticed that we didn’t include a lot of states that have had cougar sightings, especially in the last few years. With that in mind, let’s break down how we classified the states.
For our list, we only included US states with a stable breeding population. Currently, there are only 15 states that meet that qualification.
Other states have had sightings, especially as mountain lion populations begin to explore and look to expand. Mountain lions that are looking for new breeding areas are known as “transient” and are almost always males. Transient males have been sighted as far east as New York!
Are Mountain Lions Making A Comeback?
Currently, mountain lions seem to be making a comeback in regards to their historic range. They once inhabited the entire United States, but were killed off and pushed west. With healthy populations and strong conservation programs, however, they seem to be pushing back east.
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