December 1, 2008 - Big Wildlife Calls on Montana Officials to End Cougar Hunt
Missoula – Today, wildlife
advocates called on the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks Department (MFWP) to
ban the hunting and hounding of cougars across the state. The advocates said
the annual trophy hunting of cougars, along with pursuing cougars with packs of
hounds for “sport,” was scientifically indefensible and unnecessary. In Montana, it is legal to
hunt cougars from October until April. Hunters may also chase cougars with
hounds for training purposes. Montana’s
official winter cougar hunt begins today.
“Most Americans oppose killing a majestic animal like a cougar so that a trophy
hunter can put another head above the fireplace. Rather than targeting cougars,
state wildlife officials should be educating the public about how to live
harmoniously with the big cats,” said Brian Vincent, Communications Director
with Big Wildlife, an international wildlife protection organization.
Citing a body of science, the advocates said liberalized hunting has disrupted
cougar populations across the West and may actually be increasing conflicts
with the cats. The Seattle
Times reported in March that a study by Washington State University's
(WSU) Large Carnivore Conservation Laboratory found hunters have killed off
many older males, as well as targeted female cougars, causing their numbers to
plummet. WSU team leader Dr. Robet Wielgus told the Times, "killing
large numbers of cougars creates social chaos...Trophy hunters often target
adult males, which act as a stabilizing force in cougar populations. The adults
police large territories and kill or drive out young males. With the grown-ups
gone, the 'young hooligans' run wild." Dr. Wielgus further noted,
"Evidence suggests cougars under two years of age, just learning to live
on their own, account for the majority of run-ins with people and domestic
animals…Every time you kill a dominate male, about three of these young guys come
to the funeral."
“Beginning December 8, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and the Lolo
National Forest have scheduled another cougar hunt in the Rattlesnake National
Recreation Area. Their reasoning? ‘To reduce mountain lion encounters in the
North Missoula Area.’ This premise has no scientific basis and may in fact lead
to more encounters,” said Jerry Black, founder of Wildlife Watchers in Missoula.
In addition, the wildlife advocates said they were concerned the use of hounds
for pursuing cougars was impacting other wildlife including imperiled species
such as grizzly bears, wolves, and lynx. Wildlife agencies throughout the West
have acknowledged hounds may pursue and harass non-targeted wildlife. With that
in mind, at-risk species, isolated by habitat destruction and fragmentation,
are extremely vulnerable to any additional stress. Hounds have been known to
chase cougars with young, increasing the risk of separating kittens from their
Expansive trophy hunting of cougars ignores the importance the cats play in
natural systems, the advocates said. As a "keystone species," cougars
help sustain ecological integrity and preserving species diversity. For
example, cougars and other large carnivores regulate deer and elk, as well as
smaller mammal, populations. The disappearance of top carnivores triggers the
loss of other species and the intricate connections among the remaining
residents begin to unravel.
Instead of promoting hunting of cougars, the MFWP should place emphasis on
educating the public about living harmoniously with cougars, the groups said.
For example, the agency should educate communities, ranchers, farmers, and
individuals about simple steps they can take to prevent conflicts with the wild
cats. Such steps include: avoiding feeding wildlife, bringing companion animals
in at night, sheltering domestic farm and ranch animals, utilizing guard dogs
to shield farm and ranch animals, installing motion lighting around property,
and recreating responsibly in cougar country. Big Wildlife has encouraged state
officials across the West to provide technical assistance to ranchers and
farmers, as well as offer tax incentives to those who implement non-lethal
measures to prevent conflicts with wildlife.
“Rather than targeting cougars, Montana
wildlife officials can play a vital role in educating the public about the
ecological importance of these animals, teaching communities about how to avoid
conflicts with the big cats, and fostering a sense of reverence for one of
Nature’s most magnificent creatures,” said Vincent.