Utah Cougar Hunting Changes Approved

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Mule deer and bighorn sheep in Utah are going to receive some added protection from cougars.

At their Aug. 18, 2011 meeting, members of the Utah Wildlife Board approved some changes to Utah's cougar hunt. The 2011–2012 cougar hunting season begins Nov. 16, 2011. Here's how the season will run:

  • Utah has 49 cougar hunting units. The 49 units have been placed within nine large cougar management areas.
  • Adding the number of permits for each unit in an area together gives a total objective for the entire area. Hunting will continue on ALL of the units in the area until the total objective for the entire area is reached or the cougar hunting season ends.
  • One additional factor could also result in the hunt on an area closing early. If a certain number of female cougars are taken, the hunt on the area will close early to protect the cougar population in the area.

Helping bighorn sheep

Eight of the nine cougar management areas are centered around areas where radio collars were placed on female deer starting in 2009. The ninth "area" is actually three separate areas that have large populations of bighorn sheep.

The bighorn sheep areas will be managed differently than the deer areas. On the bighorn sheep areas, the board has set a minimum number of cougars to be taken. Regardless of the number of female cougars that are taken, the hunt on the bighorn sheep areas will not end until the minimum number of cougars is taken or the season ends.

More precise management

A deer study that's underway in Utah is giving biologists better information about the number of deer that are surviving in the study areas each year.

Kevin Bunnell, Wildlife Section chief for the DWR, says creating cougar management areas based on areas in the state where deer have had radio collars placed on them is a more precise way to balance the number of cougars and the number of deer.

"The study is giving us up-to-date information about the deer herds in these areas," he says.

Bunnell says predation by cougars is just one of several reasons why adult deer die. And it's probably not the major reason deer herds in many areas are struggling. "But when adult deer survival is below average," Bunnell says, "that's an indication that cougars might be one of the factors that are limiting the growth of the herd.

"In a situation like this," he says, "temporarily increasing the number of cougars that are taken can allow a deer population to expand."

Bunnell says cougars rarely prey on deer fawns. Instead, they focus mostly on adult deer.

Cougar guidebook

All of the cougar hunting rules the board approved will be available in the 2011–2012 Utah Cougar Hunting Guidebook. The free guidebook should be available by Sept. 6 at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.