Utah’s wildlife agency goes trigger happy with cougar killing quota increase

For the better part of a decade, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has proposed annual increases to the number of cougars that trophy hunters can kill in that state, despite widespread public opposition. Now, DWR is looking not merely to increase hunting quotas, but to open up the majority of Utah’s hunting units to unlimited trophy hunting of cougars (with a year-round season in most cases) and to double the number of cougars each trophy hunter can kill. This is little more than an extermination gambit.

During the 2019 hunting season, trophy hunters in Utah killed more than 500 cougars out of a population of about 2,750. If this proposal is approved, hundreds more could be killed during the 2020 hunting season, leading to broken populations and countless orphaned kittens who will die alone from starvation, predation or exposure once their mothers are killed by trophy hunters. Those who survive will grow up without having learned necessary hunting skills from their mothers, leading them to target easier prey to survive—including livestock.

The opposite approach, the protection of cougars from trophy hunting, will produce a much stronger outcome all around. Their populations will stabilize, and older cats who are more skilled at catching natural prey will thrive. They’ll be more likely to avoid human communities, and less likely to be involved in conflicts with people, pets and livestock.

That’s the approach we’re pushing, because DWR’s plan throws the best available science to the wind simply to appease big game hunters and a few ranchers.

The wildlife agency has staked its claim on the worn-out myth that killing Utah’s cougars will boost the state’s populations of mule deer and bighorn sheep—two species highly targeted by big game hunters. This special interest faction tipped its hand with legislation passed into law earlier this year that requires the culling of native carnivores like cougars to boost big game populations.

The rationale for killing cougars and other native carnivores is fundamentally unsound, as extensive research demonstrates that North American deer and sheep do not benefit from increased trophy hunting of native carnivores like cougars. Killing these carnivores, who are vital to ensuring healthy ecosystems, does not address the main factors driving deer and sheep declines, such as weather and disease. In fact, cougars help keep herds healthier by removing sick individuals who may spread chronic wasting disease, now plaguing deer herds throughout the country, among other conditions. And with the likelihood of increased predation on livestock, this extreme lethal approach to cougar management will only harm the ranchers DWR says it wants to help.

In the end, it’s pretty clear that DWR is attempting to manage deer and other big game species with an old playbook, one based on outdated and unrealistic population goals created decades ago when much of Utah’s natural landscapes were untouched by human development. Utah’s deer can no longer meet those historically high population goals, and DWR must develop sound and realistic population estimates to achieve healthy, stable population sizes suited to the size and expanse of the state’s remaining wild habitat.

The HSUS is working to oppose this cougar hunting proposal, and Utahns can submit comments to the Utah Wildlife Board before the deadline on August 20th at 11:59am CT.

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