Dunn: H.B. 469 is Dangerous for Mountain Lions


Mark Draper

The Utah State Capitol Rotunda on Friday, Feb. 12, 2020. (Photo by Mark Draper | Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Auriana Dunn, Opinion Writer


Over the past couple of weeks, Utah Gov. Spencer Cox has signed bills from the 2023 legislative session, including H.B. 469, the “Wildlife Related Amendments.” H.B. 469 focuses on wildlife issues and includes provisions allowing for year-round mountain lion hunting with only a hunting or combination hunting and fishing license. Gov. Cox should not have signed a bill with these mountain lion hunting provisions. The bill adopted the provisions without discussion or explanation, and the legislation is scientifically unfounded. It will likely lead to mountain lion overhunting and environmental harm.

H.B. 469 makes many provisions that affect hunting and wildlife. These include banning trail cameras, establishing regulations for air rifles in hunting and land acquisition for hunting access and wildlife habitats. However, the provisions on mountain lion hunting weren’t initially included in the bill’s text. Language concerning cougar hunting was only introduced on the legislative session’s 43rd day. A rise in mountain lion populations served as the only explanation given. The bill also lacks public backing. Conservation groups and mountain lion hunting groups have all opposed it.

The so-called rise in mountain lion populations cannot be substantiated because mountain lions are incredibly elusive, generally avoiding human contact. In 2019, an estimated 2,000 mountain lions lived in Utah. In 2021, 667 were killed. That number dropped in 2022 to 491 mountain lions killed, indicating a dip in mountain lion populations. But even with that data, what little indicators we do have don’t show a significant change in mountain lion populations. Mountain lions tend to manage their population sizes.

Austin Green, a wildlife biologist at the University of Utah, explained, “They don’t occur in large numbers. They require massive home ranges and disperse hundreds and hundreds of kilometers. They tend to control their populations pretty well. They meet their population density … just through natural processes.” Therefore, because cougar populations self-regulate, we have no need to increase hunting.

Additionally, H.B. 469 is said to aim to help struggling mule deer populations. Killing more mountain lions would not necessarily increase mule deer populations, though. While some correlation exists between decreasing mountain lion populations and increasing mule deer populations, it is still only a correlation. We need more research to confirm a significant relationship before passing legislation. A 2019 study found a potentially negative correlation between mountain lion hunting and mule deer populations. The study found that mountain lion hunting disproportionately kills adult mountain lions, leaving more young and inexperienced mountain lions. Lone young mountain lions haven’t learned how to kill large elk, so they focus on the prey they have experience with — mule deer.

Other variables also affect mule deer populations. Green explained in our interview that “If anything, there’s more evidence to suggest that mountain lions might actually serve a benefit to both of those populations, specifically, as chronic wasting disease continues to become more and more prevalent throughout Utah.” Chronic wasting disease is a new and prevalent variable that has a significant impact on mule deer populations. In this instance, mountain lions help to decrease this fatal disease. Mountain lions tend to go after old and sick mule deer, so predated infected deer cannot then spread the disease. Mountain lions also haven’t been shown to contract the disease from mule deer.

The bill is also problematic because it could lead to overhunting. H.B. 469 removed mountain lions from the list of big games that require a separate application and license. Now, those wishing to hunt mountain lions need only a hunting or combination permit. If mountain lions get overhunted, it would lead to environmental issues and worse mountain lion-human interactions. Mountain lions are integral to their ecosystem. As keystone species and top-level predators, they keep prey populations stable and — like the wolves of Yellowstone — impact important river systems.

As previously mentioned, hunters tend to kill adult, mature mountain lions. This leads to a disproportionately young mountain lion population. These young mountain lions have less experience and are more reckless than the older generation, and they more frequently go after livestock and creep into human living areas. A 2016 study substantiated this by using a 30-year dataset of mountain lion deaths in British Columbia. The study found that mountain lions killed in human and mountain lion conflicts were consistently younger than those killed by hunting. The study also found that trophy hunting increases human-mountain lion conflicts, with 16 of their 17 models showing a positive correlation.

This bill should not have been signed. It has no scientific foundation and will lead to overhunting and increased hunter-mountain lion conflicts. More regulations must pass to lessen the blow of H.B. 469 on mountain lion populations until new legislation can right this wrong. Mountain lions are a critical and beautiful species, although unfairly painted as dangerous vermin. They keep to themselves and manage their own populations.

“At the end of the day, unfortunately, [the bill] is just not based on what science would suggest,” Green said. “And there’s going to be a lot of indirect effects that we may not be able to measure until, unfortunately, it’s become too late.”


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