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New bill brings worries over open season on hunting Utah cougars

Posted at 5:42 PM, Mar 03, 2023

SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah wildlife bill that passed in the state legislature this week is raising concerns about how it will affect hunting cougars.

Previously, a hunting or combination license, along with a special cougar permit, was needed to hunt the animals. Now, the bill basically makes cougar hunting open year-round and with just a hunting or combination license.

Sen, Scott Sandall (R-Tremonton) said the bill is for public safety.

“The current way we try to do cougars is not working very well," said Sandall. "We have a permit allocation process that is simply not harvesting as many cougars, and I think we’ve got a lot more interaction between cougars and humans, cougars and wildlife and cougars and livestock.

"We’re seeing an increased amount of damage.”

Faith Heaton Jolley with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources says it could also be to help deer populations.

“Cougars are the biggest predator of mule deer, and so in areas where we had enacted some of our predator management plans, we actually had seen an increase in the adult does and other deer in those areas.”

Kirk Robinson, founder and executive director of the Western Wildlife Conservancy, argues that is not enough reasoning.

“There are some small studies that show that a correlation between heavy reduction of cougars and slightly increasing numbers of mule deer, but that’s just a correlation,” he said.

Robinson adds that the part of the bill pertaining to cougars could lead to more reckless hunting.

“Anyone 12 or older can obtain a license. They don't need to permit — just a general hunting license, and can then pursue cougars and kill them,” said Robinson. “There is apparently no limit on the number that they might be allowed to kill. A single individual could kill several. And which is, in fact, likely to happen”

Killed by by people that Robinson said might not understand the importance of cougars in the environment.

“They do not appreciate that they are highly intelligent, that they actually have emotion such as fear and anger, and even compassion and friendship, and things like that," explained Robinson. "They care for their young. They do not appreciate the role in the ecosystem as a vital component of healthy functioning ecosystems.”

Jolley added that even with the signing of the bill, cougars will still be protected wildlife and there will be regulations in place to help with their management.

“Right now, we’re basically still just trying to work with our partners in the legislature and through our public process and with Utah Wildlife Board to update our management and our rules accordingly," she said.

Having passed in the House and Senate, the bill is now on Governor Spencer Cox’s desk awaiting his signature.