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More permits to hunt cougars could herald a more successful deer hunt

By Cody Penman

Sept. 22, 2016

An increase in cougar hunting permits, approved this month by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, still leaves the state short of the all-time high for authorized kills.

The Division of Wildlife Resources plans to raise the number of cougar hunting permits for the 2016-17 hunt to 492 — a 30 permit rise from the previous hunting season. The move has drawn criticism from the Humane Society of Utah. But David Stoner, a mountain lion expert and ecologist at Utah State University, said this year’s number still falls below the average of 504 permits per year, and well below the state record.

“At one point there were over 650 permits for cougar hunting,” Stoner said.

Utah currently employs a cougar management plan to keep track of mortality rates from hunting and various other deaths, such as roadkill. The plan was put into place in 1990. From all causes, on average, 421 cougars are killed by humans in the Beehive State every year.

“The number of cougars killed during the hunt compared to the number of permits given out is a little over 50 percent," Stoner said, "but never a one-to-one ratio.”

A deciding factor for the increase in hunting permits is the maintenance of other animal populations. As a wildlife management function, increases and decreases in populations of cougars influence deer populations.

According to the Utah Management Plan, policies impacting cougars are most often designed to benefit mule deer, with mountain lion harvests liberalized where mule deer are below targeted population numbers.

“Mule deer are a prized game animal,” Stoner said. “There is a lot of demand from the public for hunting opportunities.”

A three-year study of cougars in Canada, published in the Journal of Wildlife Management, found that one mountain can kill as many as 72 deer in a year. The average cougar, according to the study, takes 42.

For some local trophy hunters, an increase in cougar permits can mean a more successful hunting season.

“I like it,” said Daniel Richins, a hunting guide at R&K Hunting in Summit County. “I have seen a lot of trophy bucks that have been killed by cougars — which makes one less deer for my client to harvest.”