Cougar management plan draws criticism | ParkRecord.com

Cougar management plan draws criticism

The Utah Wildlife Board approved an increase in the number of overall cougar permits that will be issued for the 2016-2017 hunting season.

John Ziegler has been enamored with the mystic and elusiveness of mountain lions since moving to Utah in the 1980s. Ziegler said he knows the predators are out there and has seen the occasional paw print to prove it, but has yet to encounter one.

Ziegler, who lives in Park City and has claimed to have spent several thousand hours hiking the Utah's vast wilderness, said he will continue to looking for the animals in the hopes of seeing one firsthand.

However, Ziegler said he is concerned that his chances were significantly reduced last week when the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) unanimously agreed to update the agency's wildlife management plan. The Utah Wildlife Board, comprised of citizens appointed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, approved an increase to the number of cougar-hunting permits for the 2016-2017 hunting season.

Approximately 37 more permits were approved for the bobcat and cougar season– which runs Nov. 16 to March 1.

“I have no problem being identified as a ‘liberal from Park City’…And while I haven’t conducted a poll, I have to believe the people in this state are just as concerned regarding a planned increase in trophy hunting of something as majestic as the cougar."

"The cougar management plan is a perfect example of how you had very objective science that is well documented going up against a system in which you have longstanding family history and family practice," Ziegler said "The belief, by what appears to be a minority of the population of the state, is that family hunting practices that are perhaps 50 to 100 years old are still fully valid today. But times change as the resources and population change."

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Ziegler is one of more than 30 people who attended the Utah Wildlife Board meeting on Sept. 1 in Salt Lake City. Several members from the Summit County nonprofit organization Save People Save Wildlife also attended.

"Increasing the cougar harvest does not decrease livestock predation or deer predation and does not decrease human cougar interaction, with the exception of satisfying a significant minority population who think it is advisable to promote trophy hunting of these animals," Ziegler said. "We just happen to have a wilderness area that includes a variety of majestic animals and I firmly believe that expanding the hunting quota and harvesting quota is very irresponsible."

Save People Save Wildlife's member Maria Roberts, who lives in the Snyderville Basin, started an online petition through Care 2 Petitions that has amassed more than 110,000 signatures. The petition has spread beyond the state to reach as far as Massachusetts, New York, California and several other countries. It calls for a plan that "prioritizes stable and sustainable wildlife populations, not big-game trophies."

According to information from the Division of Wildlife Resources, the state's cougar population is doing well enough that biologists have been concerned with the number of sheep and cattle that are being killed. Approximately 60 incidents were reported last year involving cougars attacking livestock, a release stated. The release said that during the 2015–2016 season, 371 cougars were killed. Of nearly 25 who provided input at the meeting, at least 10 spoke in favor of the management plan.

"Most of the additional cougars will be taken in areas where the livestock incidents happened last season," Leslie McFarlane, mammals coordinator for the DWR. "We are paying attention to what the harvest says, we are paying attention to what our populations are doing and we are trying to be very responsible with what we recommend."

McFarlane said permits are being increased in certain areas in response to specific issues, such as attacks on livestock and deer. In other cases, she said permits were decreased.

"A lot of that has been lost in detail," McFarlane said. "We have a management plan in place that was put together by a group of Utah-based citizens and it uses Utah science and Utah research so we will continue to follow that plan."

Allison Jones, director of the Wild Utah Project, said the number of permits that were issued doesn't appear to be based on scientific data, adding that DWR is making the decision based on the desires of the hunting community.

"There are couple of questions to consider: what is the maximum number of cougars that you can take and not harm the population and do you think by harvesting extra cougars it will make livestock depredation or impacts on other native prey go down?" Jones said. "I think that they are doing OK by bumping up the number each year, but at what point have they gone too far? It seems like they are on shaky scientific ground."

Many of those critical of the plan said they are not opposed to hunting, including Ziegler. He said he has hunted, but referred to some of the state's wildlife management plans as offensive.

"I understand the thrill of the hunt and how exciting it can be, but think of what you are actually doing. You are physically taking a beautiful, majestic critter and letting a pack of dogs loose on it so you can then shoot it and you call it a sport," Ziegler said. "Many of our practices really deserve introspection and an honest discussion regarding that.

"I have no problem being identified as a 'liberal from Park City' and I understand being from Park City is a handicap when I talk to these guys," he said. "And while I haven't conducted a poll, I have to believe the people in this state are just as concerned regarding a planned increase in trophy hunting of something as majestic as the cougar. When DWR comes out with a unanimous decision, it basically was sort of inflammatory to those among us who feel the process is flawed. I mean at least make the decision appear to have considered both sides."

All of the rules the board approved will be available in the 2016-2017 Utah Cougar Guidebook. The guidebook will be available at http://www.wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.

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