(AP) The Wyoming Game and Fish Commission quickly adopted its first-ever mountain lion management plan on Thursday in Casper.
The plan was welcomed by the Wyoming Wildlife Federation, which said it should protect livestock, human safety and result in a healthy mountain lion population.
It allows hound-pack hunting, said Ben Lamb, a WWF representative. That style of hunting allows trophy hunters to focus on the big male cats, because their tracks are bigger than female lions, he said.
It avoids the problem of taking females and thus losing cubs (to starvation or predation), Lamb said. All too often, when hunters rely on stands or blinds and lure in mountain lions with calls of injured or distressed prey animals, they get female cats.
Chuck Anderson, the trophy game biologist who presented the management plan to the commission, said the bottom line is what happens to female mountain lions. Agency personnel will evaluate human-caused deaths, the sex and age composition of hunter-killed animals (especially females) and the age of harvested females.
The goal of the plan is to sustain mountain lion populations where suitable habitat exists in Wyoming. Population densities will depend on:
* Management objectives to provide for hunting and recreation opportunities.
* Maintaining ungulate populations in line with habitat conditions.
* Minimizing mountain lion depredation on pets and livestock.
* Reducing the potential for human injury.
The newly approved management plan takes a deliberate “adaptive management” approach, said agency officials.
According to the plan, each sub-population of mountain lions is judged as to whether it is a source of excess lions that can disperse elsewhere; a stable population that is neither too numerous or too few; and a sink population that is small or in decline, based on both biological and social criteria.
Sometimes, low-density or sink populations will be desired — such as in areas with high nuisance incidents (livestock depredation, human-lion conflict) or where ungulate populations are depressed due to mountain lion predation.
The plan notes that nine regions qualify as source areas, seven as stable areas and one as a sink area. Two regions are intermediate between source and stable criteria, while another two are intermediate between stable and sink status.
Generally, the management plan calls for source or stable management. Hunting in the 29 mountain lion hunting areas will be driven by mountain lion mortality quotas — when the quota has been met for a hunt area, the hunting season will be closed. Hunters must present the pelts and skulls to Game and Fish personnel within 72 hours of harvest, so specific data can be recorded.
Anderson said the agency has responded to several suggestions from peer reviewers and from the general public. For example, the agency Web site will help hunters distinguish the sex of lions, and the department will update a public attitude survey about mountain lions and mountain lion hunting.
Not all suggestions were accepted. The Cougar Fund recommended 24 hours for hunters to report kills. Still, the Cougar Fund stated in a letter to the agency that the plan is a marked improvement over past management and acknowledges the best available science.
In other Thursday business, the commission approved a final plan for bird and mammal species conservation in the eastern grasslands of the state; accepted a timeline for development of a black bear management plan; and heard a presentation of the northeast Wyoming sage grouse conservation plan.
The commission continues meeting today at 7 a.m. It is expected to discuss a policy that outlines the department’s stance regarding when control of predatory animals and predacious birds is warranted for the benefit of wildlife.
By Brodie Farquhar
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