WILDLIFE

Utah’s cougars could go extinct with hunting law, lawsuit says

Oct 20, 2023, 10:00 PM | Updated: Oct 25, 2023, 2:28 pm

A cougar is pictured. A new lawsuit says Utah's law that allows yearlong cougar hunting could lead ...

FILE: A mountain lion on a rocky ledge. (Lynn Chamberlain/Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

(Lynn Chamberlain/Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)

SALT LAKE CITY — A lawsuit seeks to throw out a Utah law that allows cougars to be hunted all year.

The law, HB 469, became effective back in May. It legalized unlimited, year-round hunting and trapping of cougars. It also strips the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources‘ ability to manage cougar hunts.

“Cougars are still classified as protected wildlife in Utah and require a hunting or combination license to hunt,” the DWR told KSLtv.com.

That’s why California’s Mountain Lion Foundation and Utah’s Western Wildlife Conservancy want the law to be declared unconstitutional.

“With this hastily written and ill-conceived law in place, it opens up the door for every mountain lion in Utah to be killed,” said R. Brent Lyles, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation, in a press release.

In other words, the organizations are worried state officials will no longer have the ability to prevent Utah’s cougars from being hunted to extinction within three years.

But, Rep. Casey Snider, R-Cache, who sponsored the cougar hunting bill along with state Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Box Elder, disagrees. He told KSL NewsRadio’s Dave and Dujanovic that the DWR indicated that there would be no biological impact based on enacting the law.

“I think it’s pretty extreme to say that cougars are going to disappear in five years based on a provision in the statute,” Snider said.

 

Why the law should be thrown out

The lawsuit argues that cougars, also known as mountain lions and pumas, are a keystone species and affect every aspect of an ecosystem.

Lawmakers created the law to decrease the cougar population.  The lawsuit cites studies that show cougar populations begin to decline after 14% of the population is killed. Even introducing other mountain lions to the area won’t halt the decline.

The lawsuit also alleges Utah hasn’t measured its cougar population since 2020.

“Nobody — not Casey Snider — or anyone has alleged that science in any way supports this draconian measure to try to get rid of as many mountain lions as possible,” Kirk Robinson, the executive director of Western Wildlife Conservancy, told KSL NewsRadio.

The overhunting of mountain lions may also cause more bad encounters with humans. 

Since hunters are generally hoping to kill the largest animals, they often kill the most capable adult males and females.

“The science indicates that you have a better, more stable cougar population and also stable social relations among cougars if you don’t remove those toms from the population,” Robinson said. “You have fewer juveniles roaming around causing trouble.” 

The lawsuit also mentions female cougars. Utah and other states legally protect adult female cougars with kittens. That’s because when a female cougar dies, there is a 75% chance that she left behind kittens that will also die. 

Since hunters won’t be able to tell if a cougar is a mom or not, they could kill a cougar with babies.

Furthermore, the lawsuit said the cruelty associated with cougar hunting has increased with the passage of the law. Lawmakers legalized snare traps, or hidden wire loops, with HB 469. When the loop captures a creature, it tightens when it tries to pull away. This harms cougars, dogs, and other animals. 

Legal reasoning for the lawsuit to stand

The legal argument of the lawsuit is based on the Utah Constitution’s “right to hunt and fish” provision. 

The constitutional right includes language that promotes wildlife conservation and management, provides reasonable regulation of hunting and fishing activities, and preserves the future of hunting and fishing. 

The law could violate this right since the cougar population could decline in Utah.

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Utah’s cougars could go extinct with hunting law, lawsuit says