Conservationists and hunters are calling for a veto from Utah Governor Spencer Cox
“We have not had a change this radical in the wildlife management of any species in Utah in 56 years.”
That was the dismayed reaction of Corey Huntsman, the President of the Utah Houndsmen Association, after the Utah Legislature moved to toss out decades of wildlife management practice with a last-minute amendment that would end regulation on mountain lion hunting in the Beehive State.
The amendment, introduced on March 1, 2023, by Sen. Scott Sandall (R-Tremo
nton), never had any public hearings. It instantly drew sharp criticism not just from the Mountain Lion Foundation and other conservation and wildlife advocates, but also from the state’s hunting community.
As Corey Huntsman, President of the Utah Houndsmen Association, told Field and Stream, “this was done with zero public input. The legislators did not seek out Utah Division of Wildlife biologist experts for opinion or cause and effects. They didn’t reach out to our universities that are doing studies on deer and lions. This was all legislators managing wildlife by slipping an amendment into an unrelated bill at the last hour.”
A Step Backward
Current Utah law permits hunters with valid licenses and permits to hunt with hounds from Nov. 1 through May 31, and year-round hunting without hounds. Hunting can be stopped in a region when wildlife officials determine that more killing would do ecological harm. (Mountain Lion Foundation has criticized those limits as far too permissive.). Trappers are not allowed to target mountain lions, and rules require any trapped cougar to be “released unharmed.”
The amendment to House Bill 469 removes all of those restrictions, allowing mountain lions to be killed year-round by virtually any means, including cruel and unethical trapping, and it removes the ability of the state’s Division of Wildlife Resources to set limits on hunting.
The amendment was adopted without a hearing or any debate — except for a quip wondering how the Brigham Young mascot, Cosmo the Cougar, would feel about the change.
Of all states with breeding populations of mountain lions, only Texas currently sets no hunting limits and permits unrestricted killing. This move by Utah would send the state back decades, to an era when mountain lions were eradicated in much of the United States. It’s further concerning that state wildlife biologists will not be able to understand and manage beloved species including mountain lions, deer, elk and bighorn sheep.
Effective management by wildlife agencies protects wild landscapes, livestock, and humans in cougar country. Excessive killing of carnivores can increase the chance of conflict with livestock and people — a finding replicated by numerous independent research groups throughout the West.
As a letter the Mountain Lion Foundation sent to Governor Cox explains: “Increased hunting leaves many cougar kittens orphaned, …The orphaning of these cougar kittens poses a considerable risk to the cougars themselves as well as public safety.” The letter also cites the ecological harm overhunting would cause to Utah’s wild lands, a central draw for Utah’s $6.1 billion outdoor industry.
Our Response and Next Steps
Working with advocates in Utah and across the country, the Mountain Lion Foundation leapt into action to prevent Governor Spencer Cox from allowing this dangerous change to become law.
We alerted Utah residents and worked with experts nationwide to ensure that the Governor understood not only the dangers of this law, but also the benefits of protecting mountain lions from unnecessary hunting. Utahns told the Governor that unregulated trapping is not just cruel to mountain lions, but dangerous to people and domestic dogs (who can be crippled or killed by the traps) and observed that Utah has a well-tested system for setting hunting seasons and managing cougar populations. While we have been critical of the outcomes, we and the hunting community agree that an open and public process is a fairer way to manage hunting than the free-for-all that would ensue should this become law.
What You Can Do
Governor Cox has until Thursday, March 23, 2023, to veto the bill. If he signs it or takes no action before that day, the bill becomes law, and hunting season will not end in June as currently scheduled.
Concerned Utahns can head to our Utah page to contact the Governor now.
Advocates outside Utah can share this link with friends and family in Utah.
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