Next week, legislators will debate whether or not to add mountain lions to the list of animals that can be legally trapped in the state. Newcastle Representative Hans Hunt is one of the bill’s sponsors. He says sportsmen and ranchers complain that mountain lions are hurting mule deer populations.
“The incidence of predator kills on deer populations in certain parts of the state has to be evidence enough that their population is certainly increasing and at a rate that’s cause for concern,” Hunt says.
Dr. Mark Elbroch is a wildlife biologist with Panthera, a group that’s been studying mountain lions on the Teton Cougar Project for going on 15 years.
“We can tell you without any doubt that the mountain lion population has dropped by about half in the last eight years,” Elbroch says. “So you have a population that’s already under stress, and now we’d introduce new tools that would further undermine the mountain lions of Wyoming.”
Elbroch says he’s worried that the legislation could lead to Wyoming Game and Fish allowing year round mountain lion hunting.
Wyoming Untrapped President Lisa Robertson has the same concern.
“The wildlife management we have in place is doing the job,” she says. “We don’t need to add another type of tool that’s an indiscriminate tool. When you put out a snare you don’t know what you’re going to catch.”
Robertson says new regulations should wait until the Wyoming Game and Fish Department can conduct a more accurate study of mountain lion’s population in the state, something she says will be hard to do with such an elusive species.
But Representative Hunt says he doesn't anticipate the passage of the bill would lead to an open season on mountain lions.
“There’s a handful of trappers in the state,” he says. “It’s not a widely popular sport. Adding one more species to the list that is allowed to be trapped I don’t think would necessarily cause a huge increase in the sport itself.”
He says the bill will need a two-thirds majority to get it into committee, which won’t be easy during an already busy budget session. But he says he hopes the bill will stimulate a statewide discussion about mountain lion predation on mule deer, and on trapping in general.
The legislature will vote on the issue next week.