Is Utah waging a “perpetual war on cougars” with hunting rules?

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Utah wildlife officials are once again stepping up the pressure on the state’s cougars, saying killing predators will boost mule deer and bighorn sheep numbers.

Drawing strong reprimands from conservationists, the Wildlife Council Thursday approved a plan to increase quotas at many hunting grounds and completely lift quotas and allow year-round cougar hunting in areas where deer and sheep numbers fall below targets population.

“Our goal is to maintain a healthy cougar population within the species’ current distribution in Utah, while taking into account human security, damage to ranchers and declining populations of the species. big game that cougars prey on, “said Wildlife Division‘Marine Mammal Coordinator Darren DeBloois.

But there is little scientific evidence to support this idea, according to Kirk Robinson, executive director of the Western wildlife conservation.

“I’ve never heard of anyone come up with a science that justifies killing so many cougars,” Robinson told the board. “The carnivore numbers will follow the ungulate prey numbers if you let them. Of course there is going to be a bit of a delay, but it can be done. Instead, it looks like we are in a perpetual war with the cougars.

He noted that the number of cougars captured has risen sharply in recent years and now far exceeds the large harvests of the mid-1990s. Last year, hunters killed 650 cougars.

“It’s unacceptable. It’s not scientific [and] has nothing to do with ethics. It does not respect the opinions of the people of Utah you are meant to serve. It’s not all right with that, ”Robinson said. “Don’t tell me it’s all science based when you can’t cite any published, peer-reviewed study to back it up. “

Several speakers noted that mule deer populations are likely grappling with drought, habitat loss and collisions with vehicles. Predators belong to the landscape and play an important role in removing sick and weak deer from the gene pool, they said.

Sundays Hunt of the Humane Society presented new survey results showing a strong majority of voters in Utah oppose cougar hunting in an effort to protect big game. The results are based on surveys of 900 voters on August 4 and 5.

DWR’s latest move to increase cougar harvests comes not from Utah’s wildlife management agency, but from the legislature. Last year, lawmakers passed HB125, which mandated the DWR to reduce predator populations in hunting units where big game numbers do not meet population targets and where predators “play a significant role” in deer and bighorn sheep declines. ‘America.

The program has safeguards to ensure that cougars are not unnecessarily killed, DeBloois explained in a recently posted video.

“Predation must be a key factor preventing the growth of prey populations. Second, deer populations must have abundant quality habitat, which biologists call carrying capacity, ”DeBloois said. “Third, control efforts to reduce predator populations must be sufficient to yield results, so they must be aggressive and we must eliminate a significant number of predators in the region in order to see results. These efforts must be concentrated on geographic areas.

DWR concluded that predator management plans are needed in 33 of the state’s 53 hunting units. In these units there is no limit on the number of cougars that can be killed and the season is year round. Hunters are allowed to kill a maximum of two cougars per year.

The general cougar season in Utah normally runs from November 3 to June 30, while the limited access season runs from November 3 to February 20. Meanwhile, the agency has opened a “spot-and-stalk” season from August 1 to December 31. These permits can be purchased for $ 30 over the counter.

Since 2014, Utah has reduced its cougar population to 1,600 adults, according to DWR. In the past three years, hunters have captured 1,756 cougars. Forty percent were female and 17% were over 5 years old, which is exactly what DWR’s goals for cougar hunting are.

Although the Wildlife Board has steadily increased cougar permits since at least 2017, Providence sheep farmer Sierra Nelson has pleaded for more, saying cougars are wreaking havoc on Utah cattle.

“For any time you’ve ‘seen a lion run majestically in a field,'” Nelson said, citing comments from a previous speaker who loves to see cougars, “you’ve never seen them tear up anything, not just an animal, but your livelihood and your being.

A council member proposed a ban on shooting cougars wearing GPS tracking collars. Brigham Young and Utah State Universities are researching the cougar using these collars to track animal movements. Their findings could inform DWR to what extent cougars prey on big game and livestock, but collared cats sometimes find themselves in a hunter’s line of sight and researchers must retrieve the collar and put it on another. Lion.

According to DWR, more than 50 cougars currently wear necklaces. At least 10 collared cats have been slaughtered in recent years. The proposed ban on killing these animals was rejected by the Utah Woolgrowers Association, which Nelson heads.

“The association is a partner in this lion study both financially, but also in the fact that we feed the cougars that you study a lot,” she said. “If there is a predatory cougar, it has to be removed at some point, whether it’s cabbage or not. I understand how hard it is to go up there and chase a lion and stick it to the collar.

On two occasions, she killed mountain lions suspected of playing with her sheep.

“I’m going to be honest, one of them had a collar and when he fell off the tree and had the collar on it, I almost died,” Nelson said. “But that’s what it is, and the place I took it from was exactly where the sheep have been all summer and that depreciated them.” I would go back and would do it again.

The Wildlife Board reached a compromise and approved a ban on the use of dogs to harvest collared cougars. This protection does not extend to lions suspected of killing sheep and cattle.


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