Utah DWR and Humane Society clash in cat fight over cougar management

Posted at 12:30 PM, Aug 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-27 19:34:59-04

SALT LAKE CITY - There is a bit of a cat fight brewing over big cat hunting regulations in Utah.

You could soon be able to hunt more cougars and bobcats in the Beehive State.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is considering changes to its cougar management plan and members of the Humane Society of the United States have some concerns.

Utah's Game Mammals Coordinator explained the proposed changes Thursday.

The DWR wants to change the way Utah hunts cougars by factoring in mule deer and bighorn sheep populations when they choose how many cougars hunters will be allowed to kill each year.

Wildlife officials are calling it a "holistic approach."

"We are looking at balancing prey populations with the predators so we have provisions also looking at what prey populations are doing," DWR Wildlife Section Chief Bill Bates said. "So deer survival drops, adult survival drops and we may increase cougar permits but this first year our recommendations were taking more permits out of predator management."

The fine print there is, "may increase cougar permits," which is what the board passed Thursday.

That is what Humane Society of the US members said concerns them.

The Utah Director of the Humane Society of the US said killing off the predator population will not increase the prey population.

"The Humane Society of the United States and its Utah supporters advise the board making this very important decision today to go back to the drawing board, and with its cougar management plan, adopt one that is well informed by the best available science adopting the suggestions by Utah cougar biologists who argue for a conservative management approach," Hunt said.

Hunt said the humane society argues the proposed plan will hurt three social structures of the cougar population and ultimately destroy it.

She said:

  1. Killing more adult females means their young will also die.
  2. Killing more adult males means younger males will take over and kill off the dead male's young so it can produce its own young with the females.
  3. Those same young males that are left will also encroach on human livestock.

The Utah Wildlife Board listened to the complaints and still moved to pass the new plan.

The humane society said it will continue to fight for change.

Information from the Utah DWR on cougar and bobcat management recommendations:

Based on data collected from hunters and trappers, it looks like cougars and bobcats are doing well in Utah. Because the populations are doing well, DWR biologists are recommending hunting and trapping rules that are similar to last season.

Leslie McFarlane, game mammals coordinator for the DWR, says hunters took 330 cougars during the state's 2014–2015 season. For the 2015–2016 season, biologists are recommending a slight decrease in the number of permits offered for limited-entry cougar units. They're also proposing a slight increase in the number of cougars to be taken on harvest-objective units. "If our proposals are approved," she says, "the number of cougars taken should be very similar to the number taken this past season."

The bobcat rules biologists are recommending are identical to last season. Each trapper and hunter would be limited to not more than six permits. Utah's bobcat hunting and trapping season would run from Nov. 18, 2015 to Feb. 7, 2016.

During the 2014–2015 season, trappers and hunters took a total of 2,919 bobcats in Utah.