Mountain Lions in the State of Utah

Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources puts ever-increasing numbers of mountain lions in the crosshairs. The 2019-20 quota allowed hunters to kill 690 lions, but in January 2020 the state tacked on an additional 117 permits and reopened closed hunt units.

This disturbing increase is fueled by House Bill 125, which passed during the 2020 legislative session. The bill authorizes the DWR director to aggressively increase hunts on cougars and other native carnivores whenever deer and elk populations fall below certain objectives. However, numerous scientific studies show that this is a counterproductive approach. In California, where cougars aren’t hunted, deer and elk populations have higher densities than states that routinely hunt their lions. This suggest that killing cougars doesn’t result in higher deer and elk populations. Furthermore, multiple studies prove that mountain lion hunting leaves juvenile cats to fend for themselves, and the young cats are more likely to have conflicts with humans and domestic animals.

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History

Bounty Period

In 1888 the Utah Territorial Legislature classified the cougar as an “obnoxious animal” and established a bounty. The program paid a reward for each cougar killed during the next 71 years. Utah ended its cougar bounty program in 1959. Partial records exist for 1913-1959, revealing at least 3,784 cougars will killed and turned in for a bounty payment during this time period.

Unregulated Hunting

After Utah discontinued their cougar bounty program, there followed eight years (1959-67) where cougars were unprotected and more than 714 were killed. Records are spotty as best and likely many, many more lions were killed during this time period as well.

Trophy Hunting

In 1967, Utah reclassified the cougar as a “game animal.” Since then annual trophy hunting quotas and mortality have continued to rise.

Status

Like most western states, cougars in Utah were first managed through a bounty process, then left unclassified for a few years, followed by the species listing by Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) as a game animal and trophy hunted for recreation.

All of these management practices contain a single common element: killing cougars to benefit a small group of men. Though management plans claim to be focused on preserving healthy populations, trophy hunting opportunities have always been the priority.

The Killing Continues

During the bounty period, most people were concerned only about how quickly the species could be eradicated. The few who were directly involved were motivated by how much money they could make by turning in a kill. The underlying intentions of today’s decision-makers are much less clear.

In 1996 the Utah Wildlife Board approved a Predator Management Policy that authorizes the UDWR to increase cougar harvest quotas on management units where big game populations are depressed, or where big game has recently been released to establish or supplement new populations. According to the UDWR’s most recent Cougar Management plan, “most predator management plans that affect cougars have been designed to benefit mule deer and/or bighorn sheep.” A study released in March 2019, however, suggests that targeting mountain lions to boost mule deer populations may have the opposite effect.

Utah’s 2015-2025 Cougar Management Plan states that the primary objective in Utah is to “maintain a healthy cougar population within their current distribution while considering human safety, economic concerns, other wildlife species, and maintaining hunting traditions through 2025.” The Cougar Management Plan was designed to help guide the UWDR’s management decisions in the state. Yet, despite the best available science, quotas in Utah continue to rise. In 2018, for example, the Wildlife Board approved a quota of 642 mountain lions which was up from 579 from the year before.

In 2019, UDWR estimated the mountain lion population in the state to be around 2,700 adults, but density estimates from leading cougar researchers indicate a population of roughly 1,600 mountain lions is likely more realistic. Without a trusted population estimate, it is unclear how much longer Utah’s cougars can withstand the current level of persecution.

Habitat

The State of Utah encompasses approximately 220,000 square kilometers of land (85,000 square miles). The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) states that cougars can be found in forested regions of the state, which represent around 92,696 square kilometers (35,790 square miles) of land, or approximately forty percent of the state.

Utah Cougar Habitat

According to UDWR, “cougars occupy 92,696 km2 (35,790 mi2) of habitat. Cougars are distributed throughout all available eco-regions and exhibit a broad habitat tolerance occurring from the semi-arid low-elevation pinion-juniper belt, to the mesic, aspen and conifer dominated forests of the higher mountains and plateaus. Habitat quality varies by ecoregion with the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin containing smaller, naturally fragmented habitats with lower cougar densities, and the mountain ecoregions comprised of relatively large, mesic patches (Stoner et al. 2013a).

Residential and commercial development is incrementally reducing cougar distribution through habitat alteration and destruction, particularly along the western border of the Wasatch Mountains in northern and central Utah. The last statewide cougar population estimates were developed in conjunction with the Utah Cougar Management Plan in 1999.”

These early UDWR calculations estimated anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 cougars in the state. More recent research in the United States and peer-reviewed publications by leading cougar biologists indicate cougar density is roughly 1.7 resident adults per 100 square kilometers of habitat.

With about 93,000 square kilometers of habitat, Utah’s cougar population is currently somewhere around 1,600 animals and likely declining due to increased trophy hunting and habitat loss.

Law

Species Status

The species is classified as a game animal, along with any “wildlife normally pursued, caught, or taken by sporting means for human use.”

The species also is covered by Utah’s definition of “protected wildlife,” along with crustaceans, mollusks, and other vertebrate animals living in nature, except feral animals.

State Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of Utah is governed by the Utah Code — the state’s collection of laws. Utah’s department rules and regulations can be found in the Utah Administrative Code. Since our summary below may not be completely up to date, you should be sure to review the most current law for the Utah.

You can check the statutes directly at a state-managed website: https://le.utah.gov/ These statutes are searchable. Be sure to use the name “cougar” to accomplish your searches.

State Regulation

Utah’s Wildlife Resources regulations are found in the Natural Resources section of the Utah Administrative Code. The Utah Wildlife Board sets these regulations.

Utah Wildlife Board

The Utah Wildlife Board is a seven-member board whose members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Utah Senate. The Director of the Division of Wildlife Resources serves as the board’s executive secretary but may not vote on policies. The board is assisted by Regional Advisory Councils. Board members serve 6-year terms. Terms are staggered so that approximately one-third of the board members are appointed every 2 years. The governor selects board members from a list submitted by the Wildlife Board Nominating Committee, an 11-member body whose members are appointed by the governor. No more than two board members may reside in the same wildlife region; members from the same region are appointed at different times so their terms do not expire in the same year. Board members must have expertise in at least one of the following areas: wildlife management or biology; habitat management, including range or aquatic; business, including knowledge of private land issues; or economics, including knowledge of recreational wildlife uses. There are no political diversity rules regarding the board’s composition.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) is part of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The division enforces the Utah Wildlife Board’s regulations. The division is tasked with acting as the trustee and custodian of protected wildlife.

Management Plan

The Utah Cougar Management Plan V.3 is slated to serve the state until 2025. The plan was adopted in 2015. It was written by the Utah Cougar Advisory Group with the goal of “maintain[ing] a healthy cougar population within existing occupied habitat while considering human safety, economic concerns, and other wildlife species through 2025.” Management plans are prepared on the orders of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and is then used to direct the UDWR’s management of mountain lions.

Hunting Law

Hunting of mountain lions is allowed in the State of Utah. The regulations governing “recreational” hunting of mountain lions specify 96 cougar hunting units. Mountain lion hunting season generally runs from November 7 to May 31 unless the total quota or female quota is met in areas with harvest objectives before the season ends. Hound hunting is allowed.

Utah allows the hunting of mountain lions with any firearm not capable of being fired fully automatic and bows. Utah also allows disabled hunters to use crossbows.

Utah’s list of regions where mountain lions may be hunted and maps of those regions can be found here.

Quotas are set by the Utah Wildlife Board after receiving input from UDWR biologists. The board also receives input from the public and interest groups through the Regional Advisory Councils.

Public Safety Law

Utah allows people to kill or seriously injure a mountain lion when “when the person reasonably believes such action is necessary to protect them self, another person, or a domestic animal against an imminent attack by the wild animal that will likely result in severe bodily injury or death to the victim.” The person must then notify the UDWR within 12 hours. The mountain lion’s body or any parts of it may not be removed from the site, repositioned, retained, sold, or transferred without written authorization from the division.

Depredation Law

Depredation in Utah is monitored by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. The regulation specifies that the livestock’s owner, a member of the owner’s family, or regular employee of the owner may kill a mountain lion that is attacking or has been attacking livestock. The owner may also notify either the UDWR or the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) of the depredation and a local hunter or a USDA Wildlife Services specialist will be appointed to kill the depredating lion. The carcass must be delivered to the UDWR within three days. The UDWR may allow the individual to keep the mountain lion’s body if he/she wishes, but an individual may only keep one mountain lion per year.

Owners of domestic animals are required to take certain steps to protect their pets or livestock, including paying an annual fee to cover the costs of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food’s predator control services. Those who fail to pay the fees may receive only minimal levels of service. There is a government-funded compensation program for losses of domestic animals to mountain lions.

Trapping

Mountain lions may not be trapped for fur in Utah. The regulations governing trapping in Utah specify that any mountain lion accidently caught in a trap must be released unharmed. It may not be pursued or killed after it has been trapped. A trapper must obtain written permission from the UDWR before removing the carcass of a mountain lion killed by a trap. The carcass then remains property of the state and must be surrendered to the UDWR.

Poaching

Poaching laws in the State of Utah provides some protection of mountain lions in law, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. Utah lists the killing of a mountain lion while trespassing as a class B misdemeanor, which can be punished with up to 6 months of imprisonment. The state considers “wanton destruction” of a mountain lion to be a class A misdemeanor, for which the offender may be imprisoned for up to one year. Utah law recommends that those who illegally kill or possess a mountain lion be fined at least $350 per animal.

Action

2021-08-26:  Update

Utah Wildlife Board approves excessive 2021-22 hunt recommendations

Utah’s newly approved hunting targets for mountain lions are excessive and unsustainable, according to an analysis by conservation advocates. The Utah Wildlife Board voted Thursday to allow unlimited cougar hunting in most of the state, and to place harvest limits elsewhere. During the 2020-21 cougar hunting season, a record 702 kills by hunters and Wildlife Services were reported by the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR).
Under the plan, 33 of the 53 cougar hunting units will allow unlimited year-round harvest and have a goal of >40% female harvest. For the remaining 20 cougar hunt units, DWR recommended that hunters be permitted to kill up to 297 cougars. The policy allows a single hunter to kill up to 2 cougars per year, but does not allow the killing of cougars that have been collared by researchers statewide.

2021-07-14:

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has released their cougar hunt recommendations for the upcoming season. If you live in Utah, please attend one of the Regional Advisory Council (RAC) or Wildlife Board meetings to give your feedback on their recommendations. You can also submit written comment to each of the RACs or Wildlife Board. The deadlines for comment and meeting schedule are posted below.

We will be sending out more information regarding DWR’s cougar hunt recommendations soon. 

RAC and Wildlife Board meeting schedule:

Central Utah RAC meeting: July 27 at 6 p.m. MDT (Public comments must be submitted by July 22 at 11:59 p.m. MDT)

Northern Utah RAC meeting: July 28 at 6 p.m MDT (Public comments must be submitted by July 23 at 11:59 p.m. MDT)

Southern Utah RAC meeting: Aug. 3 at 7 p.m. MDT (Public comments must be submitted by July 29 at 11:59 p.m. MDT)

Southeastern Utah RAC meeting: Aug. 4 at 6:30 p.m. MDT (Public comments must be submitted by July 30 at 11:59 p.m. MDT)

Northeastern Utah RAC meeting: Aug. 5 at 6:30 p.m. MDT (Public comments must be submitted by July 30 at 11:59 p.m. MDT)

Utah Wildlife Board meeting: Aug. 26 at 9 a.m. MDT (Public comments must be submitted by Aug. 19 at 11:59 p.m. MDT)


2020-08-01:

UDWR’s statewide population estimates have ranged from 2,500 to 4,000 cougars. Currently, biologists with UDWR estimate that there are around 2,700 adult cougars. However, density estimates from leading cougar researchers indicate a population of roughly 1,600 cougars is likely more realistic. Without a trusted population estimate, it is unclear how much longer Utah’s cougars can withstand the current level of persecution.

To make matters worse, mountain lions are be blamed for declines in mule deer populations. While science indicates deer declines are largely due to habitat issues and diseases from domestic animals, killing predators continues to be the preferred course of action. Additionally, a study released in March 2019, suggests that targeting mountain lions to boost mule deer populations may have the opposite effect.

On March 2, 2020, House Bill (HB) 125, sponsored by Carl Albrecht, was signed into law by Governor Gary Herbert. HB125 amended the Utah State Code to require the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to aggressively remove (kill or have hunters kill) cougars, bears, bobcats and coyotes whenever deer and elk herds are “below objective,” – that is, when they are not as large as UDWR and certain hunter groups desire.

In August, 2020, the Utah Wildlife Board approved recommendations put forth by DWR that allows hunters to kill up to two mountain lions each, increased the number of unlimited quota units and tacked on an additional 27 permits in hunt units with quotas, and added a spot-and-stalk season that allows hunters to kill lions starting in August rather than November. This decision was made despite an overwhelming number of comments (approximately 86%) that were opposed to the recommendations.

Utah’s cougar management is quickly becoming one of the worst in the western states where they still exist, second only to Texas. If you live in Utah, we need your help! Be sure to watch this page for alerts.

Visit our volunteer page to sign up to get involved in Utah!

 

Map

Library

Utah Cougar Files Sorted by Type

Scientific Research

  • Ackerman et al 1984 Cougar food habits in Southern Utah JWM
  • Animal Conservation Sinclair et al 2001 Gene Flow Estimates in Utah’s Cougars Imply Management Beyond Utah
  • Barnhurst Lindzey 1989 Detecting Female Mountain Lions with Kittens
  • Bishop et al 2005 Mule Deer Survival Among Adjacent Populations in Southwest Idaho
  • Choate et al 2006 Evaluation of Cougar Population Estimators in Utah 1996-2003
  • Conover 1995 Behavioral Principles Governing Conditional Food Aversions Based on Deception lithium chloride
  • Flower 2016 THESIS Emerging Technology to Exclude Wildlife from Roads Electrified Pavement and Deer Guards in Utah USA
  • Gashwiler Robinette 1957 Accidental Fatalities of the Utah Cougar
  • Gese et al 2004 Lines of Defense Coping with Predators in Rocky Mountain Region
  • Harlow et al 1992 Stress response of cougars to nonlethal pursuit by hunters
  • Hemker et al 1984 Population Characteristics and Movement Patterns of Cougars in Southern Utah 1979-1981
  • Krannich Teel 1999 Attitudes and Opinions About Wildlife Resource Conditions and Management in Utah
  • Krannich Teel 1999 Utahans Highlights From a Public Opinion Survey
  • Laing Lindzey 1993 Patterns of Replacement of Resident Cougars in Southern Utah
  • Laundre et al 2007 Numerical and Demographic Responses of Pumas to Changes in Prey Abundance Testing
  • Lindzey 1973-1981 Cougar Biology Research Proposal
  • Lindzey Sickle Laing 1991 Simulated Cougar Harvest in Southern Utah
  • Lindzey et al 1988 Survival Rates of Mountain Lions in Southern Utah JWM
  • Lindzey et al 1992 Cougar Population Response to Manipulation in Southern Utah
  • Lindzey et al 1994 Cougar Population Dynamics in Southern Utah
  • McCutchen 1982 PHD DISSERTATION Behavioral Ecology of Reintroduced Desert bighorns Zion National Park Utah
  • Mcivor et al 1995 Taxonomic and Conservation Status of the Yuma Mountain Lion
  • Mitchell 2013 MASTERS THESIS Cougar Predation Behavior in North Central Utah
  • Quality Growth Commission 2000 Land Ownership Overview
  • Ripple Beschta 2006 Linking a Cougar Decline Trophic Cascade and Catastrophic Regime Shift in Zion National Park
  • Robinette 1959 Food Habits of the Cougar in Utah and Nevada
  • Schmidt 2002 Presentation on Animal Damage Management Where its Going and Social Views
  • Sinclair et al 2001 Gene Flow Estimates in Utahs Cougars Imply Management Beyond Utah
  • Stoner 2002 Cougars in an Industrial Suburban Landscape in Utah
  • Stoner 2003 ABSTRACT Tales of Madness, Heartbreak, and Delivernance; Using GPS Technology to Track Cougars Through an Industrial Landscape
  • Stoner 2004 MASTERS THESIS Cougar Exploitation levels in Utah Implications for Demographic Structure Metapopulation Dynamics and Population Recovery
  • Stoner 2011 DISSERTATION Ecology and Conservation of Cougars in the Great Basin Effects of Urbanization Habitat Fragmentation and Exploitation
  • Stoner et al 2006 ABSTRACT Cougar Exploitation Levels in Utah Implications for Demographic Structure Metapopulation Dynamics and Population Revcovery
  • Stoner et al 2006 Cougar Exploitation Levels in Utah Implications for Demographic Structure Population Recovery and Metapopulation Dynamics
  • Stoner et al 2008 Long Distance Dispersal of a Female Cougar in a Basin and Range Landscape
  • Stoner et al 2013 De facto refugia ecological traps and the biogeography of anthropogenic cougar mortality in Utah
  • Stoner et al 2018 Climatically driven changes in primary production propagate through trophic levels
  • Teel et al 2002 Utah Stakeholders’ Attitudes toward Selected Cougar and Black Bear Management Practices
  • Van Sickle Lindzey 1990 ABSTRACT Evaluation of Road Track Surveys for Cougars
  • Wolfe et al 2015 Is anthropogenic cougar mortality compensated by changes in natural mortality in Utah? Insight from long-term studies
  • Wolfe et al 2016 Evaluation of Harvest Indices for Monitoring Cougar Survival and Abundance

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