New research suggests hunting cougars does not achieve state management goals of reducing conflicts between the large cats, humans and livestock.
The study compared decades of data in one state without cougar hunting (California) to 10 western states that allow hunts. The researchers analyzed cougar populations, human-cougar interactions, cougar-livestock attacks and deer populations.
If management was working to reduce cougar-related issues in the 10 hunting states, the researchers expected to see larger cougar populations, more cougar interactions and attacks, and lower deer populations in California. That isn’t what they found.
“There is no justification for sport hunting, relative to these four objectives,” said John Laundré, a long-time predator biologist and assistant professor at Western Oregon University.
Laundré led the study, and said the hunting didn’t make a statistical difference with any of those metrics. His study even found that in Utah and Washington, there were correlations between cougar hunting and increased livestock attacks and human interactions.
Laundré explained this could be because when a mother cougar is killed, juvenile kittens that haven’t learned how to hunt could go after easier prey like cows or humans.
“They don’t know what to look for, so they don’t know what is appropriate prey. They’re small. So they’ll attack whatever they want,” he said.
It is illegal to shoot female cougars with spotted kittens in most states. Hunting females is limited or discouraged in much of the West, too, because of their importance to maintaining cougar populations.
Laundré said his findings don’t necessarily mean that states should outlaw hunting cougars. Instead, he said it means citizens should decide whether they want to allow hunting, given that its only benefit would be recreation.
The study did have limitations, though, with researchers noting that it’s extremely difficult to estimate cougar populations.
This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada, the O’Connor Center For the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.