The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is recommending a few changes to the 2020–21 cougar and bobcat hunting seasons, and is asking for the public’s feedback.
As with each wildlife species in Utah, cougars are managed according to guidelines established in a management plan, which includes regulated hunting. DWR biologists make determinations and gather input from hunters, individuals who don’t hunt and livestock producers, who sometimes have sheep killed by cougars. The plan is then finalized and approved by the Utah Wildlife Board. The current management plan was established in 2015 and expires in 2025. However, adjustments can be made as needed, depending on changes in cougar population numbers.
“Our goal is to maintain a healthy cougar population within the current distribution of the species across Utah, while also considering human and livestock safety, and declines in populations of big game species that cougars prey on,” DWR Game Mammals Coordinator Darren DeBloois said. “As part of this, we factor in a proportion of older age animals, breeding females and healthy cougars in the population.”
Legislative changes to cougar hunts taking effect this fall
A law passed during the 2020 legislative session authorizes the DWR director to take immediate action (under certain conditions) when a big game population is under the established herd-size objective for a management unit. Because cougars prey on big game species, predator management plans will be implemented to decrease cougar population densities in some areas of the state. Reducing those population densities should also decrease cougars’ predation rates on mule deer and bighorn sheep populations that have seen significant declines in recent years.
New data from GPS collars helps DWR biologists determine the cause of death for many species. When the biologists determine that predators are preventing the growth of big game populations, the big game populations are under their management objectives, and several other conditions are met, the predator management plans are implemented for that area.
The cougar hunting units that have predator management plans in place will be open for unlimited year-round harvest. Twenty-five hunting units across the state will have predator management plans.
Due to the new predator management law passed this year, DWR Director Mike Fowlks has opened a new fall spot-and-stalk hunting season for cougars, which will run from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31. This hunt will be implemented on a year-by-year basis, as needed, to decrease cougar population densities. Anyone interested in participating in this year’s new hunt may purchase a $30 permit online or at Division offices and harvest a cougar without the use of dogs during this spot-and-stalk hunting season.
Another law also passed during the 2020 legislative session added a few clarifications to when and how a predator that is killing or damaging livestock can be removed. As a result of the new law, the DWR rules for bear and cougar depredation were updated to reflect that the response period following a livestock depredation incident is now 96 hours, instead of 72 hours.
Proposed changes to cougar hunting
DWR biologists are recommending a small increase from last year for the regular cougar hunting permits. They are proposing an additional 27 permits in hunting units that aren’t implementing predator management plans.
“The changes to the permit numbers are within the parameters established in the Utah Cougar Management Plan and will help ensure healthy cougar populations, while addressing local issues of concern, including impacts to specific prey populations, livestock depredation and maintaining cougar hunting opportunities across the state,” DeBloois said.
The DWR is also recommending increasing the harvest limit from one to two cougars between July 1 and June 30, 2021. Another proposal aims to clarify when it would be illegal to harvest a cougar with a GPS tracking collar. While it’s discouraged to harvest any collared wildlife, it is currently not illegal and biologists are not currently recommending any restrictions. Any future restrictions on harvesting collared cougars would be specified in the Utah Cougar Hunting Guidebook.
Bobcat permit recommendations
Utah’s bobcat management plan includes three categories for maintaining a healthy population: the number of juvenile bobcats harvested each year, the number of females harvested and a target survival rate for adults. Because two of the three parameters indicated a declining population, DWR biologists are recommending some slight changes for this year.
The proposal includes reducing the number of permits per individual trapper from five permits to four, and maintaining the total number of permits available at 6,460. The DWR is also proposing to shorten the bobcat trapping season. The proposed season would run from Nov. 25 to March 1, 2021.
In order to follow health officials’ recommendations to decrease the spread of COVID-19, the public meetings for these proposals will be held online. You can view the biologists’ presentations and share your feedback about them here on the DWR website. The presentations can also be viewed on the DWR YouTube Channel, but comments can only be submitted through the forms on the DWR website.
The public comment period for each of the Regional Advisory Council meetings opened on July 13. Public comments for the northern region and central region RAC meetings will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday, July 22. Public comments for the southern region, southeastern region and northeastern region RAC meetings will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, July 30.
The public comment period for the Utah Wildlife Board meeting also opened on July 13 and will close at 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 20. The public comments previously submitted will be shared with the RAC and wildlife board members. While members of the public can watch a livestream of each of the RAC meetings and the Utah Wildlife Board meeting, public comments will not be accepted during these electronic meetings.