EOC 206 – Mark Elbroch’s Got A Cougar Conundrum

August 12, 2020 – Sarinah Simons

Courtesy of Mark Elbroch

*Note: there’s a podcast that accompanies this article. It can be found here: http://wildlensinc.org/eoc-206markelbrochcougarconundrum/.

Shrouded in mystery, misunderstood, vilified and beautiful, mountain lions, pumas, cougars (or however you refer to them), exist in our modern world in constant conflict. People hate them, people love them, or people fear them.

Mark Elbroch is a mountain lion biologist who has dedicated his career to not only studying these elusive animals, but working to bridge the divide among different stakeholders, agencies, and advocates. In Mark’s new book, The Cougar Conundrum (available August 13, 2020), he dismisses long-held myths about mountain lions and uses groundbreaking science to uncover important new information about their social habits.

https://islandpress.org/books/cougar-conundrum

Mark argues that humans and mountain lions can peacefully coexist in close proximity if we ignore uninformed hype and instead arm ourselves with knowledge and common sense. He walks us through the realities of human safety in the presence of mountain lions, livestock safety, competition with hunters for deer and elk, and threats to rare species, dispelling the paranoia with facts and logic. In the last few chapters, he touches on human impacts on mountain lions and the need for a sensible management strategy. The result, he argues, is a win-win for humans, mountain lions, and the ecosystems that depend on keystone predators to keep them in a healthy balance.

Courtesy of Mark Elbroch

In this episode, Mark breaks down the mythology and takes us through some of the biology and natural history behind these animals, and contextualizes current management practices and public perception in unexpected ways! If you’ve ever wondered why we think the way we do about mountain lions in this country, buckle up, because it may surprise you. 

For more information, visit: https://islandpress.org/books/cougar-conundrum

Courtesy of Mark Elbroch

Cougar Etiquette

Based on “Guidelines For Recreating In Cougar Country”

Cougar Fund

https://www.cougarfund.org/education/living-with-cougars/safety-recreating/

  • Learn about the places and wildlife living where you hike, bike, ski, and climb. Be especially alert when recreating at dawn or dusk, which are peak times for cougar activity.
  • Consider recreating with others. When in groups, you are less likely to surprise a lion. If alone, consider carrying a whistle, bear spray, or attaching a bell to yourself or your backpack. Tell a friend where you are going and when you plan to return. In general cougars are shy and will rarely approach noise or other human activities. Carrying a light weight whistle for any emergency is a good idea.
  • Supervise children and pets. Keep them close to you. Teach children about cougars and how to recreate responsibly. Instruct them about how to behave in the event of an encounter.
  • If you come into contact with a cougar that does not run away, stay calm, stand your ground and don’t back down! Back away slowly if possible and safe to do so. Pick up children, but DO NOT BEND DOWN, TURN YOUR BACK, OR RUN. Running triggers an innate predatory response in cougars which could lead to an attack.
  • Raise your voice and speak firmly. Raise your arms to make yourself look larger, clap your hands, and throw something you might have in your hands, like a water bottle. Again, do not bend over to pick up a stone off the ground. This action may trigger a pounce response in a cougar.
  • If in the very unusual event that a lion attacks you, fight back. People have successfully fought off lions with rocks and sticks. Try to remain standing and get up if you fall to the ground.
  • If you believe an encounter to be a valid public safety concern, contact your state game agency and any local wildlife organizations.

DWR proposes bobcat, cougar recommendations for 2020-21 season

The Times Independent – July 24, 2020

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is recommending a few changes to the 2020-21 cougar and bobcat hunting seasons, and is asking for the public’s feedback, according to spokesperson Faith Jolley.

The Division of Wildlife Resources hopes to cull the number of cougars in Utah due to a rise in predation of livestock. Courtesy photo

As with each wildlife species in Utah, cougars are managed according to guidelines established in a management plan, which includes regulated hunting. DWR biologists make determinations and gather input from hunters, individuals who don’t hunt and livestock producers, who sometimes have sheep killed by cougars. The plan is then finalized and approved by the Utah Wildlife Board. The current management plan was established in 2015 and expires in 2025. However, adjustments can be made as needed, depending on changes in cougar population numbers, said Jolley.

“Our goal is to maintain a healthy cougar population within the current distribution of the species across Utah, while also considering human and livestock safety, and declines in populations of big game species that cougars prey on,” said DWR Game Mammals Coordinator Darren DeBloois. “As part of this, we factor in a proportion of older age animals, breeding females and healthy cougars in the population.”

Legislative changes to cougar hunts taking effect this fall:

A law passed during the 2020 legislative session authorizes the DWR director to take immediate action (under certain conditions) when a big game population is under the established herd-size objective for a management unit. Because cougars prey on big game species, predator management plans will be implemented to decrease cougar population densities in some areas of the state. Reducing those population densities should also decrease cougars’ predation rates on mule deer and bighorn sheep populations that have seen significant declines in recent years.

New data from GPS collars helps DWR biologists determine the cause of death for many species. When the biologists determine that predators are preventing the growth of big game populations, the big game populations are under their management objectives, and several other conditions are met, the predator management plans are implemented for that area.

The cougar hunting units that have predator management plans in place will be open for unlimited year-round harvest. Twenty-five hunting units across the state will have predator management plans.

Due to the new predator management law passed this year, DWR Director Mike Fowlks has opened a new fall spot-and-stalk hunting season for cougars, which will run from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31. This hunt will be implemented on a year-by-year basis, as needed, to decrease cougar population densities. Anyone interested in participating in this year’s new hunt may purchase a $30 permit online or at Division offices and harvest a cougar without the use of dogs during this spot-and-stalk hunting season.

Another law also passed during the 2020 legislative session added a few clarifications to when and how a predator that is killing or damaging livestock can be removed. As a result of the new law, the DWR rules for bear and cougar depredation were updated to reflect that the response period following a livestock depredation incident is now 96 hours, instead of 72 hours.

Proposed changes to cougar hunting:
DWR biologists are recommending a small increase from last year for the regular cougar hunting permits. They are proposing an additional 27 permits in hunting units that aren’t implementing predator management plans.

“The changes to the permit numbers are within the parameters established in the Utah Cougar Management Plan and will help ensure healthy cougar populations, while addressing local issues of concern, including impacts to specific prey populations, livestock depredation and maintaining cougar hunting opportunities across the state,” DeBloois said.

The DWR is also recommending increasing the harvest limit from one to two cougars between July 1 and June 30, 2021. Another proposal aims to clarify when it would be illegal to harvest a cougar with a GPS tracking collar. While it’s discouraged to harvest any collared wildlife, it is currently not illegal and biologists are not currently recommending any restrictions. Any future restrictions on harvesting collared cougars would be specified in the Utah Cougar Hunting Guidebook.

Bobcat permit recommendations:
Utah’s bobcat management plan includes three categories for maintaining a healthy population: the number of juvenile bobcats harvested each year, the number of females harvested and a target survival rate for adults. Because two of the three parameters indicated a declining population, DWR biologists are recommending some slight changes for this year.

The proposal includes reducing the number of permits per individual trapper from five permits to four, and maintaining the total number of permits available at 6,460. The DWR is also proposing to shorten the bobcat trapping season. The proposed season would run from Nov. 25 to March 1, 2021.

Give feedback
In order to follow health officials’ recommendations to decrease the spread of COVID-19, the public meetings for these proposals will be held online. You can view the biologists’ presentations and share your feedback about them here on the DWR website. The presentations can also be viewed on the DWR YouTube Channel, but comments can only be submitted through the forms on the DWR website.

The public comment period for each of the Regional Advisory Council meetings opened on July 13. Public comments for the southern region, southeastern region and northeastern region RAC meetings will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. on Thursday, July 30.