A mountain lion peers down at hounds, houndsmen and cougar researchers after being treed in the Buffalo Valley in 2015. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

Laramie resident Sylvia Bagdonas asked Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners to “not disappoint the public” as they mull a 50% hike in mountain lion hunting in western Wyoming to help mule deer populations that took a beating last winter.  

“After reading news accounts about this proposal it seems that the boosts in hunting quotas are intended to appease outfitters and big game hunters with little science involved in the decision,” Bagdonas wrote in a comment letter. “It is assumed that proper stewardship of Wyoming wildlife is based on science, not politics and money.” 

Bagdonas was one of 84 people who wrote in response to a state proposal to increase the maximum numbers of cats that can be killed in four hunt areas from 46 to 70 animals. The 24-cat increase is under consideration outside the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s triennial regulations review, because concerned outfitters pressured the commission to target more coyotes, black bears and mountain lions in hard-hit deer range. The agency obliged, reopening the process out of cycle.

Mountain lion tracks in the snow in northern Teton County in December 2015. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

The majority of the seven dozen people who jotted down thoughts on the mountain lion hunting hike were opposed. That includes many commenters from out of state, but also those who typically pay the most attention to Wyoming lion hunting: the houndsmen who partake. 

“I don’t want to speak as a collective for the group, but most of the people I’ve talked to who are avid mountain lion hunters don’t support increasing quotas,” Dan Thompson, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s large carnivore supervisor, said about the regulation change at a July public meeting in Pinedale.

Brad Huffaker, of Rock Springs, was one houndsman who wrote in opposition to boosting quotas. Alex Krabbenhoft, of Cheyenne, was another. 

“I am currently not in favor of raising quotas in the state as all quotas were renegotiated last year,” Krabbenhoft wrote, “and I don’t believe the data is conclusive enough to warrant an increase already.” 

Houndsmen were widely supportive of another revision to the regulations: a new mountain lion “pursuit season” that will let successful resident lion hunters continue running their dogs after they’ve fulfilled their one-cat quota. That change sprang from Senate File 179 – Mountain lion pursuit seasons, which cleared the Wyoming Legislature this year. 

An Idaho houndsman releases his lion dogs in the Buffalo Valley in 2015. (Mike Koshmrl/WyoFile)

There was also some support for increasing quotas in the four hunt areas that encompass the Wyoming and Salt River ranges. Specifically, unit 14 would go from a 20-cat quota to 30; unit 17, from five to eight; unit 26, from 15 to 23; and unit 29, from six to nine cats.

Sy Gilliland, who presides over the Wyoming Outfitters and Guides Association, encouraged the increase: “Everything we can do to help keep mule deer on the landscape we must do, and this includes significant predator control,” he wrote. “Coyotes, black bears and especially [mountain] lions must be heavily harvested to give the few remaining mule deer a chance to repopulate their habitat.”

A representative for a national trophy hunting advocacy group, Safari Club International, also took the time to weigh in. The state’s lion hunting proposal “generally demonstrate responsible and sustainable management,” SCI State and Local Liaison Chris Tymeson, of Kansas, wrote. 

Other out-of-state wildlife advocates wrote in opposition. 

Nancy Hilding, president of Prairie Hills Audubon Society in South Dakota, argued to commissioners that the planned reduction of lions “may be pointless” because quotas in two of the four hunt areas didn’t even fill anyway. 

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has proposed 50% increases in mountain lion quotas in four hunt areas, pictured here. Specifically, unit 14 would go from a 20-cat quota to 30; unit 17, from 5 to 8; unit 26, from 15 to 23; and unit 29, from 6 to 9 cats. (Wyoming Game and Fish Department)

Thompson affirmed that’s the case at the Pinedale public meeting. Lion hunters killed three of the six maximum cats allowed in hunt area 29, which runs south of the town of Jackson and includes the Snake River and Gros Ventre mountain ranges. In hunt area 14, which encompasses the southern Wyoming and Salt River ranges, 18 of the 20 cats allowed were harvested by hunters, Thompson said. 

Quotas filled in the other two areas: Star Valley’s unit 26, and unit 17, which covers the east slope of the Wyoming Range.  

The intent of the 50% quota increase is to transition the four hunt areas into “population sinks” that drive down lion numbers, Thompson said. And the amount of pressure proposed is not unheard of. When mule deer populations were much higher in the early 1990s, there were similar numbers of cats being targeted in the Wyoming Range, he said. 

If the quota hike succeeds and lion numbers do tumble, Thompson anticipates that the puma population could promptly bounce back if pressure was eased up down the road. 

“That’s what our plan is predicated upon: That [lion numbers] can rebound, as long as there’s prey and habitat,” he said.

Whether reducing lion numbers helps the embattled deer population is another question. 

A study out of southern Idaho in the early 2000s found that extensive predator removal essentially had no impact on fawn production, though did temporarily increase doe survival. Ahead of the proposed lion hunting hike, Wyoming Game and Fish did not attempt to model how killing up to 24 more cats could influence a deer herd that’s historically numbered in the tens of thousands. 

“We’ll be able to look at that,” Thompson said. “Hopefully we can answer some of those questions with ongoing research.” 

Game and Fish commissioners are scheduled to consider the agency’s lion hunting regulation revisions at their Sept. 13 meeting in Gillette.

A mountain lion rests in a western Wyoming outbuilding in 2020. (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. You really don’t want to know what I think about this short minded narrow minded close minded 19th century big game hunting solution to a 21st century wildlife conservation issue.
    But as a sidebar to this discussion I’ll add this much. The research I want to see is how much the predators benefitted in early to mid-Spring from having a huge open air freezer full of thawing carcasses to dine on . Maybe into early summer , since I’ve seen coyotes , black bears, griz, and wolves gorging on some pretty rank meat and enjoying the meal. Keep in mind that all those predators are also scavengers. Every one of them. The amount of time and biologic energy the carnivores save in simply finding a winterkill carcass to feast on instead of roaming the landscape in pursuit of wary prey cannot be understated. It’s how ecology works. We humans just don’t have data to assign to that attribute ( yet). I’ll postulate that denned wolf and coyote packs with newborn pups probably did very well bringing food back to the alpha female without hunting them down . Same for bears and yes, big cats . Food is food. The smorgasbord was open 24/7 , long after the snow melted and the frost came out of the ground. Carnivores got a good head start on this year’s ecological work. The killing was already done for them.

    We don’t need to escalate the quotas for medium to large cats , bears, or canids. Nature will balance the books. If the money-driven blood sportsman humanoids are frantic that ” their” deer , elk, and pronghorn have been decimated by the one-two punch of winterkill and predation , thus depriving them of autumnal hunting opportunity, I believe they are wildly mistaken. We’ll know for sure in a couple years , but I’ll make my bet now. The Ungulates will rebound . Look around Wyoming… it’s been a summer of magnificent regeneration and greenery everywhere. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. The Outfitters & Guides, the Stockmen, and our redshirt big game managers … not so much.

  2. Why is it that the first resort is always to kill off whatever is in competition with human beings. Cats, coyotes, or black bears didn’t viciously kill off a huge percent of the mule deer population last year. Seems to me that mother nature took a toll on the mule deer last year so in turn this year with prey numbers being so low the predators this year will have a tough year surviving. I hunt and fish and I have no problem at the end of the season looking at a tag that I couldn’t fill because my inability to fill it due to lack of animals where I hunt. Wyoming had a tough winter last year and there is no guarantee it won’t happen again this coming winter. Then what do we do, kill off 50 % more predators? When do we as intelligent beings start to say hey its our turn to go without something and issue 50 % fewer tags? We have options to survive and in hard years it may not be wild game at the dinner table.

  3. Long history of people interfering with natural ecological system for reasons other than the benefit of that system. How arrogant and disingenuous to argue that it is for the betterment of natural order. The less intrusion and tampering with natural ecological cycles, the better. And, when things go south because of this tampering, there should be accountability for those who preferred their monetary gain over the interest of allowing nature to take its course. But, this is Wyoming, so that will not likely happen. Sad.

  4. There are many lions in Wyoming I spend a lot of time there and see one on every outing and track many more , a 50% increase in hunting them is nothing .

  5. This is another attempt to control nature and as always it will end badly for the animal(s) who must be “harvested”.
    Please recognize the insanity of this increase in killing of what is an already struggling lion population. I fear that the brain power among these folks would fill a teaspoon and all they care about is their hunting efforts. Shame on ALL Of them.
    As for Safari Club Internationals comment, I’d love to see the facts and science behind their generous statement-“The state’s lion hunting proposal “generally demonstrate responsible and sustainable management,” SCI State and Local Liaison Chris Tymeson, of Kansas, wrote. ”

    Outright lies and disgusting justifications.

  6. Outfitters are only interested in one thing – $$$. Not only does the Game and Fish supply an almost free inventory of big game to the Outfitters and Guides, they also seem to be sub managed by WYOGA.

  7. The Game & Fish claimed we could not feed deer and antelope, we know better and some of us who feed cattle in Wyoming know better. Deer and antelope can and do eat our hay and had the G&F realized that fact, they could have come up with a plan to start with grass hay and slowly work up to what ever is available. Some could have been saved! Now they blame mountain lions??? Why not blame the folks who said we could not feed deer and antelope?

  8. An estimated 80% decline in mule deer numbers in the Wyoming range ( the primary food for the big cats) will naturally result in a decrease in the cat population. In the meantime, the cats will be culling the herds of CWD which is a much higher danger to the deer population.

    1. I question this , after a winter like this past one how many sick animals survived? This falls CWD tests should tell us alot .

      1. I’m not necessarily commenting on this year, but forever. I also used the word “may”. I don’t know if anything can stop cwd.

  9. Absolutely wrong approach to boosting deer populations. Biggest positive benifit for boosting deer population is cover and remove cattle from their range. Cattle graze off summer feed and wintering grounds.

  10. There was a time decades ago that Wyoming residents could have confidence and pride in the Wyoming Game and Fish Department but like so many governmental departments the Commission has become a political quagmire.

  11. Since, “everything we can do to help keep Mule deer on the landscape we must do” is the belief of Sy Gilliland and the Wyoming Outfitters & Guides Association, I am curious if they would support cutting more deer hunting licenses or shutting seasons down for the human predator to help our struggling mule deer?

    1. not to mention lion hunters pressuring deer during crucial wintering times, causing them collateral stress