Year-round cougar hunting in Utah? Those for and against sound off

Mar 10, 2023, 4:00 PM
Despite recent cougar sightings in neighborhoods, the DWR says humans are rarely attacked. This cougar was recently relocated by the DWR. Photo credit: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

SALT LAKE CITY — What is the right balance between predator and prey, cougar and deer? A state senator says there are too many mountain lions in Utah. But a spokesman for a wildlife conservancy group says the senator’s proposed hunt is looking for a problem to solve. 

Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, is calling for a year-round open season on cougars — all you need is a hunting license or a combination fishing and hunting license. To hunt big game in Utah, you must be at least 12 years old

But Kirk Robinson from the non-profit Western Wildlife Conservancy is asking Gov. Spencer Cox to veto the bill. But if not, the legislation will become law May 3 after passing both the Utah House and Senate.

Both Sandall and Robinson joined Dave and Dujanovic to explain their views on House Bill 469.

Darrren DeBloois, who is the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources game-mammals program coordinator, said the state estimates this year approximately 2,300 mountain lions call Utah home, according to KSL.com. although, that number can never be decisively determined.

Favors bill to hunt cougars

Dave asked what the right cougar population is for the state.

“I think the argument is when it comes to apex predators in the food chain — circle of life stuff — that it all regulates itself,” Dave said.

“It does, but the only way you’re going to regulate that with a cougar is starvation,” Sandall said. “If you get enough cougars that eventually they’re starving, you will see them move into other areas and start to harvest pets off of porches, your livestock. Those things will just be part of what the food chain is because there’s no other way that those cougars eventually control themselves.”

“There’s a different lens here that people don’t see. When you talk about harvesting a cougar what you’ll see when a cougar moves into a herd of sheep — and maybe kills 15 or 20 of them in a night — and only eats one of them. . . I’ve had people say, ‘Oh, you’re going to orphan cougars cubs,'” Sandall said.

“What about the orphaned lambs and fauns,” he asked.

“The current management strategy just is not harvesting an appropriate amount of cougars to help balance this,” Sandall said.

Opposes bill

“Why is your group against this?” Dave asked Robinson of the Western Wildlife Conservancy.

“Well, three reasons. One, it was done deceptively, deliberately orchestrated to deceive the public and to exclude public input,” said Robinson

“Two, the science. There is no science behind it. I heard some of the claims just made, I disagree with those. I read the science studies all the time.

“And third, it’s cruel. There’s no need for it. And it means orphaning kittens, which die of starvation [and] predation,” Robinson said, adding if certain snares are allowed to trap cougars, they can result in a slow, cruel death for the mountain lion.

Group is not an anti-hunting

“When you’re talking about the cruelty of hunting, is there any kind of hunting that you support or does this  include all hunting?” Dave asked.

“My organization has never been anti-hunting, ever,” Robinson said. “We are opposed to certain kinds of hunting and certain hunting programs for different reasons, depending on the case. There is no real need to hunt cougars. That’s one of the false premises underlying comments that were previously made by people on your show.”

He said the solution to a problem cougar is to remove the cougar. The more heavily cougars are hunted, the more frequent conflicts with humans become, he said.

“Including more cougars in urban areas . . . more predation of livestock, etc. Evidently the people that support this don’t read the literature or don’t care,” Robinson said.

How does thinning the number of cougars increase conflicts with humans? Dave asked.

Robinson said the cougar population is self-regulating, unless the dominant male is taken out by hunters.

“When you remove those, “Trophy Toms,” which trophy hunters want to kill, that whole system is broken down, and you suddenly have a lot more juveniles, both male and female, and not enough home-ranges to accommodate them all,” he said. “So they’re wandering all over the place. ”

In all their wandering, Robinson said, a young cougar becomes hungry and may kill a pet or a sheep.

“It’s worth noting, in this connection, that there are no well-documented cases of cougar attacks on people in Utah, so we don’t really have a demonstrable problem on that score,” Robinson concluded.

List of fatal cougar attacks in North America from 1868 to 2018.

More on the topic:

Group calls for Cox to veto Utah bill that opens door for year-round cougar hunting

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Year-round cougar hunting in Utah? Those for and against sound off