Credit: UDWR

Utah Had the Chance To Change Cougar Hunting Rules but Didn't

Last year, Utah allowed cougar hunting and trapping year-round without limits. Despite that, officials say harvest rates have not changed.

Last year, Utah lawmakers passed a measure allowing for year-round cougar hunting and trapping with unlimited bag limits. Then, they tasked state wildlife officials with monitoring harvest rates and making suggestions to adjust the hunting strategy at the year's end. As a result, officials say they are "not recommending any changes to cougar hunting in Utah."

In a statement, Darren DeBloois, the game mammals coordinator for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, explained the reasoning for their decision. He said hunters harvested almost the same number of cougars last year as they did the year before.

"Most cougar harvest occurs during the winter months, and from the data we've received of cougar harvest, 511 cougars were harvested from May 2023 to May 2024," DeBloois said. "From May 2022 to May 2023 — prior to when the legislation went into effect — 512 cougars were harvested. This last year there has also been a decrease in the number of livestock preyed upon by cougars, as well as cougar incidents with people."

Please enable Javascript to view this content

In a year-end presentation in May, DeBloois compared how hunters killed cougars last year with other years. Although hunting with dogs has been the primary way for hunters to take cougars, the numbers decreased by 20%. In 2023, hunters killed 369 cougars using dogs, 65 by spot and stalk hunting, and 66 by trapping. DeBloois added that officials estimate that the cougar population is approximately 2,300.

Changes to state cougar hunting law

In May 2023, Utah lawmakers passed a bill altering how wildlife officials manage cougars. The crux of the measure was that hunters no longer needed a special permit to hunt cougars. Instead, they could use a regular hunting license. Plus, they could also trap cougars. However, anyone who killed a cougar would need to report it to wildlife officials as the animal is still designated as protected wildlife.

After the law passed, wildlife groups expressed concern about the unlimited bag limits. They argued that the practice is cruel and disruptive to the species. Also, they argue that excessive hunting could negatively impact the health of public lands. They said "mountain lions have more ecological interactions with other species than any other carnivore studied."

Moving forward, Utah wildlife officials say they will continue to monitor the cougar population and harvest rates for future recommendations.