The Wyoming Game and Fish Department proposes to boost its mountain lion hunting quotas by approximately 50% in two western Wyoming mountain ranges where mule deer populations were decimated by winter.
Draft regulations released by the state agency on Tuesday increase the maximum numbers of cats that can be killed in four Wyoming and Salt River range hunt areas from 46 to 70 animals total. The hike comes after numerous big game hunting outfitters and guides pressured Game and Fish officials to go after lions, bears and coyotes in the wake of an especially deadly winter for mule deer.
The native large felines are managed in the Wyoming Range with the “overarching theme” of using hunting to “stabilize and/or reduce populations,” according to Dan Thompson, Game and Fish’s large carnivore supervisor.
Mountain lion licenses are sold in unlimited quantities over the counter, but most hunt areas are capped and the open season ends when a designated number of lions are killed. The quotas for the coming season were already determined and finalized in July 2022. Ordinarily, the seasons are only updated once every three years.
Cat quotas increased slightly during the 2022 revision. Then came a winter that killed roughly two-thirds of all adult deer in the region. Now wildlife managers are proposing a more substantial increase. Although killing more lions may placate western Wyoming big game outfitters, some lion hunters are not pleased.
Who said what
“I’m going to hold my ground on the way I feel about it,” Jason Reinhardt, a Star Valley houndsman, told WyoFile. “It proves that they don’t pay attention to the science. And more than half of those units, the quotas don’t even fill anyway.”
Research out of the now-defunct Teton Cougar Project has provided some evidence that intensively hunting mountain lions can actually hurt mule deer by creating a population of deer-killing specialists. The reason is that lion hunters tend to be choosy, selectively killing mature cats that prefer to prey on elk over deer. Younger, deer-eating specialists are left behind, biologists found.
There’s also limited evidence that aerial coyote culling — another step Game and Fish is undertaking — alters the population trajectory of mule deer.
Nevertheless, state officials are standing behind their decision to go after populations of species that prey on mule deer.
“I do believe that a potential exists to provide a more rapid rebound by targeting predator species,” Wyoming Game and Fish Department Director Brian Nesvik told WyoFile in April. “It’s certainly not absolute, but the potential exists.”
The updated mountain lion regulations are not yet a done deal. They’re subject to public comments, which are being accepted through August 4. Wyoming Game and Fish is also hosting a series of meetings about the revised seasons for lion hunt areas 14, 17, 26 and 29.
Comments can be submitted online.
Although there was talk of doing so, the state agency has not announced if it will update its black bear hunting seasons for units in and around the Wyoming Range.