Despite protests from conservationists, the Utah Wildlife Board on Thursday voted to increase the number of permits available to hunt cougars in the state.
The wildlife board voted unanimously in favor of adding 27 permits for the 2017 hunting season, bringing the total number of cougar permits to 522.
The Division of Wildlife Resources recommended the increase as part of its cougar management plan. But the Wildlife Board heard firm opposition to the proposed increase during its public comment period.
“I’m not against hunting and fishing when the animal is utilized for food and the revenue supports research and conservation efforts,” Deann Shepherd with the Humane Society of Utah said during the public comment period. “However, in this day and age, I do not see any function in trophy hunting that could not be achieved in another way,” she said.
Shepherd echoed more than a dozen individuals who voiced opposition to the increase and to hunting cougars as trophies.
During the meeting there was some debate about the accuracy and amount of research used to study and make decisions about Utah’s cougar populations.
Leslie McFarlane is the DWR’s Mammal Program Coordinator. She insisted that the recommendation to increase hunting permits was born out of a need to manage the predator’s populations.
“We are using science,” McFarlane said. “We are using research based on Utah populations. And all of our metrics are based on data and on information collected in the state of Utah on our cougar populations.”
She said that about a quarter of cougar permits go unfilled every year. Of the nearly 500 permits issued last year, only about 370 resulted in kills.
The board also voted to create Utah’s 4th cougar-control hunt in the San Juan desert region. Permit holders can take an unlimited number of cougars in those areas, where the Division of Wildlife Resources say they prey heavily on the struggling populations of bighorn sheep.