From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 6, Number 18 - July 27, 2006
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Hound hunting assessed

by Cat Urbigkit

Wyoming’s proposed mountain lion plan acknowledges the valuable role hunting with hounds plays in selective lion harvest, even though a poll revealed that 57 percent of people responding to a Wyoming survey felt that hunting with dogs should be eliminated.

The draft plan points to the need for public information and education about mountain lions and their management. A public attitude survey conducted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department in 1995 revealed that 57 percent felt hunting with dogs should be eliminated, and only 51 percent of respondents were even aware that mountain lion hunting is legal in Wyoming.

Hunting is the major way for state wildlife officials to control and regulate Wyoming’s lion population, and most lions – 90 percent of the annual harvest – are taken by hunters working with hounds.

According to the WG&F, research has indicated that hunters using hounds are more selective at choosing which animals are harvested, generally resulting in the harvest of fewer female lions and fewer orphaned cubs. Wyoming law prohibits the harvest of mountain lions accompanied by young, but females may not be accompanied by their young while searching for prey, and there fore may mistakenly beharvested by hunters. WG&F noted, “If opportunistic hunting increased and hunting with hounds were reduced, we would expect the actual number of young to increase because of the apparent increased vulnerability and the higher proportion of females harvested when compared to hunting with hounds.”

Wyoming’s draft plan states: “Mountain lion management in Wyoming (and throughout its range) has traditionally consisted of more art than science, largely due to the secretive nature and naturally low densities typical of this solitary large carnivore and the rugged terrain it typically inhabits. ... The goal of mountain lion management in Wyoming is to sustain mountain lion populations throughout suitable mountain lion habitat at varying densities depending on management objectives, and to provide fo rrecreation/hunting opportunity, maintain ungulate populations at established objectives or in line with current habitat conditions, and minimize mountain lion depredation and potential for human injury resulting from mountain lion-human encounters.”

Conflicts between mountain lions and humans is an increasing concern, with WG&F reporting that the first recorded physical injury resulting from a human-mountain lion encounter in Wyoming occurred this year near Laramie; fortunately, the injuries were minor.

Interactions between humans and mountain lions have increased during the last two decades throughout most of the western United States and Canada. Although mountain lion attacks are rare, there were nine fatal and at least 44 non-fatal attacks reported in North America between 1890 and 1990, and since then, there have been an additional nine fatal and 38 non-fatal attacks. About 30 percent of the recent attacks occurred within sight of some type of developed area.

It appears that younger-aged males, primarily yearlings, accounted for 42 percent of the attacks on humans, WG&F reported. Increased mountain lion numbers along with increased recreational use and urbanization of mountain lion habitat has created greater opportunity for mountain lion-human encounters.

Mountain lions can be an influential predator on some ungulate populations, WG&F reported, noting that this predator has been documented as an important source of predation on a bighorn sheep population in Alberta; were implicated in the decline of another bighorn population by causing avoidance of high-quality forage; and lion predation was the strongest proximate cause limiting a New Mexico mule deer population following decline due to prolonged drought conditions. Mountain lions have annually removed an estimated 15-20 percent of a mule deer population on the Kaibab Plateau in Arizona and 8-12 percent of a mule deer population on the Uncompahgre Plateauin Colorado.

The state’s draft plan calls for mountain lion management units and hunt area management objectives to be developed and evaluated based on harvest data. A source-sink adaptive management approach will be used. The hunt area and management unit approach currently used in Wyoming lends itself well to this concept and has likely, by default, maintained source-sink mountain lion population dynamics based on apparent growth in mountain lion numbers since the early 1970s by maintaining relatively high lion densities in some portions of the state (i.e.,source areas) which support recruitment of young lions into other areas managed at low population densities (i.e., sink areas); maintaining source mountain lion habitats allow persistence of mountain lions in other habitats experiencing high mortality rates.

In “sink” areas, the objectives will be to reduce mountain lion densities and maintain a density of human-caused mortality more than eight mountain lions per 386 square miles.

In “source” management areas, WG&F proposes to maintain human-caused mortality levels that allow mountain lion population growth or maintain relatively high mountain lion densities, with a human-caused mortality of less than five mountain lions per 386 square miles.

Other areas will be managed for stable mountain lion populations, with a goal of maximizing long-term hunting opportunities by maintaining a human-caused mortality density between five to eight mountain lions per 386 square miles.

Based on the mountain lion management criteria averaged over the past five years for hunt areas where winter mountain lion habitat has been mapped, WG&F estimates that eight Wyoming hunt areas currently qualify as source areas, seven as stable areas, and two as potential sink areas.

Hunt areas in the Wyoming Range, including areas 17, 2 and 29, would be managed as “source” areas, while area 26 would be managed as a “sink to stable” area. For the Wind Rivers, hunt areas 3, 4 and 28 would bemanaged as source, while area 18 would be managed as a stable area.

WG&F maintains in the plan: “Mountain lion management objectives should be based on local and regional biological and social considerations. Management objectives to reduce mountain lion densities should be proposed when the expected outcome will result in reduced human conflicts (e.g., human-mountain lion encounters, mountain lion incidents near human development), reduced depredation incidents, or to alleviate predation pressures on ungulate populations that are below the ungulate population management objective primarily due to predation rather than habitat conditions.”

Mountain lion populations can quickly recover from harvest, as documented when a population of mountain lions in Utah recovered from a reduction of approximately 42 percent in only nine months. Similarly, mountain lion populations recovered from comparable reductions in New Mexico and Wyoming in 31 and 36 months, according to WG&F.

WG&F concluded, “Changing management strategies overtime, while monitoring changes in human conflicts, depredation incidents, and ungulate population parameters, will provide an adaptive management approach from which to evaluate the success of mountain lion management prescriptions.”

The plan is currently out for public review. Written comments will be accepted until Aug. 15 and should be sent to WG&F Director’s Office, Attn: Larry Kruckenberg, 5400 Bishop Boulevard, Cheyenne, Wyo., 82006.

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