- Since the 1970s, when cougars (aka pumas or mountain lions) were declared a game species, state wildlife agencies in 10 western states have allowed tens of thousands to be killed by sport hunters. Kill numbers have increased over time, with currently over 3,200 cougars slaughtered each year. Wildlife managers have long argued that sport hunting is necessary to control cougars' numbers, reduce the risk of attacks on humans, protect livestock, and augment deer herds for hunters. But a newly released, peer-reviewed study that tested the effectiveness of this practice shows the opposite to be true.
Published this month in PLOS ONE, the study is titled "The elephant in the room: What can we learn from California regarding the use of sport hunting of pumas (Puma concolor) as a management tool?" Its authors, biologists John W. Laundré, Ph.D., and Christopher M. Papouchis, M.S., saw that
--in contrast to the other western states--California has not had a sport hunt on cougars over the same time period, which
provided a prime opportunity to test the effectiveness of sport hunting as a management strategy. If sport hunting was effective, they reasoned that California should have significantly higher cougar density, human conflicts, and cougar depredations on livestock, while also having lower deer densities.
To test for these differences, the authors systematically analyzed over 20 years of data obtained from state and federal agencies. But in each case they studied the authors found no significant difference between California and the other states. In short, California did not have more cougars than other states; it actually had a lower density than four other states. California had one of the lowest per capita rates of human conflicts. There was no difference in the average loss of livestock in California and the other 10 states. California deer densities were the second highest densities across the West.
The authors concluded that, after over 40 years of killing cougars for sport, western states have not achieved their desired outcomes. In fact, like more regional studies have (links below), the authors demonstrated that
sport hunting has actually produced the opposite effect. For example, data from Oregon demonstrated that the more cougars they killed with sport hunting, the higher their estimated cougar population. In Utah and Washington, the authors found higher kill rates of cougars by sportsmen resulted in higher human-cougar conflicts. Several states experienced significantly higher losses of livestock that correlated with higher levels of cougars killed. Likewise, in numerous states more cougars being killed were shown to correlate with lower, not higher, deer densities.
"Our analysis shows that management objectives used to justify sport killing of cougars are not supported by available data," said Laundré. "So they should not be used as a reason for continuing this practice. To do so undermines public confidence in wildlife management and trust in government institutions."
The authors recommend these states reevaluate the use of sport hunting as a management tool and base their approach on sound science and public transparency. They suggest that in the absence of empirical support for management claims, states should refrain from justifying cougar hunting as anything other than providing recreational hunting opportunities.
"Mismanagement via sport hunting has not only killed thousands of cougars for no good reason, but it has actually increased the small risk that they pose to the public and to livestock," said Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy organization. "
Wildlife agencies have consistently ignored peer-reviewed field studies which show this.
The new study published in PLOS ONE serves notice to state agencies that they are responsible for amplifying these risks and must change. It would also be nice if they acknowledged that t
he majority of people don't want cougars to be killed."
- The elephant in the room: What can we learn from California regarding the use of sport hunting of pumas (Puma concolor) as a management tool? - John W. Laundré, Christopher Papouchis. PLOS ONE, Feb. 13, 2020
- Hunting as a management tool? Cougar-human conflict is positively related to trophy hunting - Teichman, Kristine J; Cristescu, Bogdan; Darimont, Chris T. University of British Columbia, Oct. 11, 2016
- Effects of Remedial Sport Hunting on Cougar Complaints and Livestock Depredations - Kaylie A. Peebles, Robert B. Wielgus, Benjamin T. Maletzke, Mark E. Swanson. PLOS ONE, Nov. 19, 2013