A mountain lion peers past a rockwall in the Casper area in this photo captured by Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologist Justin Binfet. (WGFD)

Wyoming is moving ahead with plans to more intensively hunt mountain lions in northwestern parts of the state where winter walloped the population of one prey species: mule deer. 

The decision results from hunting outfitters pressuring the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to go after predators after the unusually deadly winter. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department responded in June with a proposal to open up its cougar hunting seasons out of the triennial cycle and increase the cat quota by 50% in four hunt areas — a plan commissioners approved while meeting Wednesday in Gillette.

Dan Thompson, large carnivore supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, in May 2023. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Ahead of the vote, Game and Fish’s large carnivore supervisor, Dan Thompson, spoke candidly about the likely effect — or lack thereof — of targeting more lions.  

“Killing more lions isn’t going to bring back mule deer,” Thompson said. 

That statement is supported by a nearly decade-long research project examining the Wyoming Range Mule Deer Herd. Winter mortality and habitat conditions are much more influential factors for the herd than predation, University of Wyoming biologists have found, and lions are one of many species eating deer. 

But, Thompson added, the public is pressuring officials “to do something” based on the suppressed mule deer prey population — down by perhaps 60% to 70%. “And this is one time we can increase those [mountain lion] limits,” Thompson said. 

In the Wyoming Range, mountain lions prey less on mule deer fawns than black bears. Overall, predation has little effect on the mule deer herd. (University of Wyoming/Monteith Shop)

While heavier lion hunting is unlikely to help the whole deer herd, Thompson said there will be short-term benefits for some animals from decreased predation.

Commissioners unanimously approved a 50% hike in lion quotas for four hunt areas, making no changes to the agency’s proposal.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission has OK’d 50% increases in mountain lion quotas in four hunt areas, pictured here. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

The areas encompass the Wyoming and Salt River ranges and tread into portions of the Snake River and Gros Ventre mountain ranges. Specifically, the quota in unit 14 went from a 20-cat limit to 30; unit 17, from five to eight; unit 26, from 15 to 23; and unit 29, from six to nine cats.

The puma population, Thompson said, can absorb a temporary pulse of increased pressure from houndsmen. The higher quotas are likely to turn that portion of northwest Wyoming into a “population sink” where cat numbers will decline, but the agency knows from experience that they’ll likely rebound. 

Thompson walked commissioners through lessons learned from letting hunters kill about 40% of the lions annually in southeast Wyoming. After the puma population was knocked down, he said, it took about two years for males to migrate back, and three years for females to fill back in. 

“It took about five years to bring the social structure back into place,” Thompson said. “What we found is that mountain lions can respond relatively quickly from a high level of harvest, or reduction.” 

The majority of the dozens of people who submitted comments about the state’s lion hunting rule revisions opposed the quota hike. About half, however, were from out of state, and participation at Game and Fish’s public meetings was “pretty paltry,” Thompson said. 

Nobody who spoke at the Gillette commission meeting this week supported the quota hike, but two members of the public contested the changes.

“Killing lions gives us the feeling we are in control,” said Penny Maldonado, executive director of the Jackson-based Cougar Fund. “This is a very unsettling slide away from the ecological reality that all wild animals contribute to the environment.” 

Mountain lion hunting in western Wyoming began Sept. 1 and goes until March 31. Because the statewide mountain lion regulations were updated in July 2022, and they’re on a three-year cycle, the quotas aren’t scheduled for another revision until 2025.

A mountain lion rests in a Teton County outbuilding in 2020. The photo of this cat was captured in Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s hunt area 29, one of the lion hunting units where wildlife managers have increased quotas by 50%. (Addy Falgoust)

Mike Koshmrl reports on Wyoming's wildlife and natural resources. Prior to joining WyoFile, he spent nearly a decade covering the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem’s wild places and creatures for the Jackson...

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  1. In her great book “The Thorn Birds” by Colleen McCullough about early 20th-Century Australia, it mentions the stockman/farmer’s motto: If it moves, shoot it; if it grows, cut it down.

    Sounds depressingly familiar in 21st-Century Wyoming.

  2. This is silly. The commission is placating one constituency and offending another. What about serving those of us who appreciate lions just as much as we appreciate mule deer?

    The next thing the commission will do is start killing ravens so they don’t peck domestic sheep. There would be some short-term benefits and the sheep herders would support it.
    Or knock back the golden eagle population … there would be some short-term benefits …
    Or what about removing sheep and cattle from mule deer ranges? There would be significant long-term benefits.

  3. Imagine in Wyoming when game herds aren’t what some special interests want, the answer is to kill more predators. Barstool biology reigns supreme. A more useful endeavor would be to ensure ample residual forage on BLM big game winter ranges after the livestock grazed during the warm season.

  4. Its been my experience that female cougars that have a litter of cubs still in the den – say until September – will drastically reduce the game animals within 2-3 miles of their den; that is, mom kills what ever is available and drags it back to feed the cubs. after the cubs are large enough to travel, she begins training them to be self sufficient hunters and they travel as a family far from the den. Therefore, the affect on mule deer can be highly localized depending on whether or not there is a mountain lion den in the vicinity. When mom is feeding a family, the available game animals and sometimes livestock such as lambs will become meals for the cubs – just the way it is. Same with coyote dens – thats why ranchers are very keen to locating and destroying coyote dens.

  5. Another biased article from Mike. Starting with the title. Oh well. Predators eat animals. That’s just fact. If the same biologist states that the lion population will recover within 5 years, how long does he reckon it’ll take the deer to recover? That question apparently wasn’t asked; or maybe it didn’t matter!? That would be against the intent of Mike’s article. Oh, and your graph is a real joke. Apparently, no lions killed a fawn in 2015 or 2016. Maybe they came into Wyoming after that!? Wildlife management ain’t easy, and there are so many variables that apply for each and every region of the state. Are we in a “predator pit” now? Maybe. Let’s try to help these deer out for a few years.

  6. I’m not the sharpest tack in the box for sure, so am I wrong thinking this philosophy is just saying “kill more lions, so we can justify killing more deer for our own pleasure”?

  7. Funny how most people rely on science when it comes to making decisions about their medical care yet this money- driven shenanigan seems as though the WY Game and Fish Commission and the Houndsman would be the best people to establish protocol to treat medical care if you had cancer, strokes, and heart attacks.
    I’ve been a big game hunter and rely on science and evidence-based studies to direct my hunting choices, not people who have a “hunch” something might work. These meritless decisions are only self- serving and disgusting reflecting ignorance and arrogance.

  8. WYG&F failed to help feed these starving animals by not feeding them a suitable pellet that was available in 2023. This agency has been in business long enough to have figured this out, e.g. Jackson Hole elk herd. There are plenty of Wyoming residents that would have volunteered their time to help. Using snow plows, motor-graders, haul-trucks and snow-tracked vehicles to reach these animals. Granted, it would not have saved all of these starving critters, but 25-40% is conceivable, which is a lot better than saving 0% by taking no action.
    So, judging by past severe mortality rate years due to severe snowpack and subzero temperatures, the mule deer, antelope and elk eventually recovered after a few years. Increased mountain lion harvests were not the solution, natural reproduction of these species was. Singling out the mountain lion is not the solution. Adults take down one animal a week, helps with preventing over grazing habitat. Mountain lions, coyotes, wolves, bears, bobcats, wolverines and eagles will all gladly kill fawns in the spring for an easy meal. So, why should the mountain lion be singled out and not these other species? This knee jerk response by WYG&F is not the solution! The solution is to be prepared the next time a severe winter event occurs!

    1. Amen. Very well thought out and right to the heart of the matter. Ridiculous people making uninformed decisions. As one other post suggested, killing one species to benefit the hunting community. Get smart WyG&F. Thanks for the excellent analysis.

  9. Humans and their greed has determined which animals are good and which ones are bad. To this day we have a predator control board that kills the ones that are deemed bad. I understand that wildlife has negativety impacts to some users, but are we going to wipe out all that do? We need to rethink the value of our smorgasbord of wildlife.

    1. Larry, I agree wholeheartedly.

      Mr. Driskill’s reply confirms outfitters control some of our elected “leaders”

  10. Clearly the anti-science crowd has made their way into all areas and the outfitters must be paying off someone. What a tragic outcome to increase mountain lion hunting in these areas. No facts to back it up but hey who cares? The idea that the “solution” is to kill more of one animal to “save” another is a disgrace. WY should be ashamed of this latest stunt. At some point our landscape will be barren and we will be able to thank Fish and Game and the outfitters/hunters for that.
    At this point I am grateful to be older. Our planet won’t survive us.

  11. I beg to differ. We much the same from the G&F in the Black Hills. After increasing quotas(and kills)for Lions in the Black Hills—- deer and Turkey populations recovered incredibly fast in spite of tough continued conditions. They gave almost exactly the same excuses at the meeting. Time will tell if it happens again. I’ll side with the outfitters on this one. One hung is sure— what they have been doing on the mule deer herd management is not working. Time to try some different approaches.

    1. But out of curiosity since science shows it doesn’t help, why kill more animals? How about fewer tags for mule deers?
      Can we do something that doesn’t involve killing an already very challenged mountain lion population.

      1. Game and Fish drastically cut mule deer and antelope tags after discovering the amount of winterkill. The cuts are all listed on their website.

      2. Fewer tags mean less money to the welfare ranchers who take advantage of their cheap public land leases.

        Our state “leaders” are beholden to an industry that’s incapable of surviving without federal assistance. It’s sad.

      3. It does help if you read (short term) with deer populations in areas of severe fawn die off it also said cats will rebound quickly from this short term pressure, plus mountain lion is a delicacy to harvest. Venison is absolutely delicious also. The extra licenses doesn’t mean the extra harvest automatically , hunters needs to be successful just lije a fisherman or a gardener it takes work to put a delicious meal on the table. Success to wildlife management and to those who plan to harvest, CHEERS 🍻