Friday, 17 July 2009 14:28

Some biologists believe in predator control but certainly not Nevada Department of Wildlife

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The North American Wildlife and Natural Resource s Conference held its 72nd meeting in March, 2007 in Portland, Oregon. This conference brings together wildlife biologists and state wildlife agencies for discussion of wildlife related problems. Session five of the Conference had nine symposiums just on predator control. Below are a few excerpts from that Conference.


Culling Mountain Lions to Protect Ungulate Populations-Some Lives Are More Sacred Than Others


Eric M. Rominger

New Mexico Department of Game and Fish


Bounties and Bounty Hunters


          Historically, top carnivore removal was carried out to protect game species and livestock throughout the western states. In fact, most predator species were bountied, with higher bounties paid for culling females in a concerted effort to reduce or eliminate populations. For example, in New Mexico in the 1950's, the New Mexico Department of  Game and Fish employed full-time trappers in New Mexico as well (A. Ford, personal communications 2003). This intensive governmental effort occurred during an era when most private ranchers kept their  "steel in the ground", i.e., leghold traps, year-round in an effort to eliminate top carnivores. It is important to note that these government trappers were highly respected members of their communities and were considered members of an honored profession. However by the early 1970s, all but two western states had converted mountain lions to game-animal status and state-agency trapper positions were essentially eliminated. Despite the best effort of the government trappers and of their private-sector allies, mountain lions were never extirpated in the western United States.


California versus Texas


California and Texas, bounding the western and eastern distribution of mountain lions, have equally dichotomous management strategies for mountain lions. Presumably, these divergent management strategies are based on differing societal values in these two states. Texas never elevated mountain lions to game-animal status, and year-round hunting and trapping of mountain lions continues throughout their range there. The management strategy in Texas contrasts sharply with that in California where a legislative moratorium passed in 1972 ceased sport harvest and public trapping of all mountain lions.


Intensive mountain lion harvest in Texas has not resulted in the extirpation of mountain lions, and mountain lion distribution is considered to be similar today to what it was 35 years ago (C. Brewer, personal communication, 2007). Because of this fact, Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) was a principal complainant resulting in the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (WAFWA) not endorsing, or otherwise sanctioning, the recently drafted  Cougar Management Guidelines-First Edition (Schroufe 2006). Perceived differences on the needs for harvest quotas and sanctuaries, to maintain mountain lion populations, were central to this complaint.


The consequences of no-sport harvest of mountain lions are less understood in California. High levels of mountain lion predation on small isolated populations of bighorn sheep (Ovis Canadensis cremnobates) and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep (O. v. sierra) populations being listed as federally endangered populations.


Ballot Initiatives


It is interesting that prior to the elimination of sport hunting in California, annual harvest was approximately 150 mountain lions per year. Today, California and U. S. Department of Agriculture, Wildlife Services cull approximately 150 mountain lions per year because of depredation complaints on livestock and on pets and because of concerns for human safety. The historical number of 150 mountain lions per year more accurately reflects the actual number of mountain lions killed than does the current estimates because a bounty was paid during much of the historical period. It has been suggested that frustration with restrictions imposed by Proposition 117 may result in mountain lions being killed illegally, resulting in an underestimate of mountain lion harvest. Total mountain lion harvest in California today, following the complete ban of sport harvest, probably exceeds mountain lion harvest prior to the ban.


Endangered Ungulates versus Hunted Ungulates


In New Mexico, state-endangered desert bighorn sheep declined to fewer than 170 individuals with mountain lion predation determined to be the principal mortality factor (Rominger and Weisenberger 1999, Rominger et al. 2004).


Mortality data (Rominger et al. 2004) combined the evidence in New Mexico of the subsidized predator prediction, resulted in near unanimity among concerned groups and agencies that culling mountain lions to mitigate the high level of mortality was required to avoid extinction of this state-endangered species. 


Between 1985 and 1999, mountain lions were not culled to protect endangered desert bighorn sheep in New Mexico (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, personal communication 2007). Between 1992 and 1999, approximately 85 percent of the known-cause mortality of radiocollared desert bighorn sheep was attributed to mountain lion predation (Rominger et al. 2004). Concern about the cascading effects of a subsidized mountain lion population on the faunal biodiversity in the New Mexico portion of the Chihuahuan desert, particularly state-endangered desert bighorn sheep, resulted in an agency decision to reinstitute culling of mountain lions in five desert bighorn sheep ranges. A combination of translocation and significantly higher survival rates of radiocollared  adults has resulted in the desert bighorn sheep population in New Mexico increasing from fewer than 170 in 2001 to more than 400 in 2007 (New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, personal communication 2007).




The geographic range of mountain lions is larger than any big-game mammal in North and South America (Logan and Sweanor 1999).


A better understanding of the cascading effects of subsidized mountain lion populations and the effects of harvest regimes on mountain lion populations, may change both societal perspectives and perspectives of management agencies responsible for these populations. It is important for society, and for scientists, to recognize that societal perspectives and scientific understanding change with time and with increased knowledge.




Role of State Wildlife Agencies in Managing Mountain Lions


Terry M. Mansfield

Idaho Department of Fish and Game

Boise, Idaho




Mountain lions (Puma concolor) are the most widely distributed obligate carnivore in North America. The species' range generally overlaps that of their primary prey, mule and white-tailed deer (Odocoileus sp.) yet they also rely on a wide range of large and small mammals as alternate prey. Historically, mountain lions occupied diverse habitats throughout much of the United States. Intensive predator-control programs, intended to protect livestock and to restore big-game populations during 1900 to 1965 significantly reduced populations over much of the range. And, mountain lions were extirpated from large areas of the Midwest and eastern regions of the country. In general, populations now appear to be stable to increasing throughout most of the western United States; although densities are not uniform. There is evidence of mountain lions recently recolonizing areas in the Midwest and in eastern regions of the country.


The history of mountain lion management in the United States reflects extreme shifts in public policy and in state wildlife agency management programs over the last 100 years. Although reliable estimates of distribution and abundance are not available prior to the 1970s for most states, it is likely that both the distribution  and abundance of mountain lions were reduced and suppressed between 1900 and 1965. This trend resulted primarily from intense efforts by state and federal agencies to protect livestock and to aid in the recovery of native ungulates based on their value to hunters. Liberal hunting seasons and methods of take, incentives to hunters in the form of bounties, and employment of government hunters were widely used to reduce mountain lion numbers in much of the western United States until the 1960s.


The practice of employing government lion hunters generally ended in the 1950s, and state-sponsored bounty payments for killing lions, common in the West from 1910 to 1960, ended in the early 1970s.


In the case of mountain lions, the states have authority over their management, with the exception of the Florida panther (Puma concolor coreyi) which is listed under the Federal Endangered Species Act.


There are also public concerns related to threats mountain lions may pose to public safety. In California, where there have been 11 verified mountain lion attacks on humans since 1985, 3 of which resulted in death of the victims, the state wildlife agency has been forced to devote considerable staff time and funds to developing and implementing emergency response capabilities (S.Torres, personal communication 2006). The real and perceived threats to public safety cannot be ignored by state wildlife agencies, regardless of relative risk, since they directly influence mountain lion management policy and most agencies have a public safety related mandate.


Legal Status of Mountain Lions in the West


The individual states have responsibility for managing mountain lions on behalf of the people, and the wildlife agencies are generally the custodians for all wildlife within each state. However, the specific legal status of mountain lions is defined in the laws for each state. In addition, commissions or administrative wildlife agencies generally have authority to adopt management plans, policies and regulations to implement, interpret and make specific state laws, including hunting seasons, limits and methods of take.


By 1975, western states had terminated bounties and had designated mountain lions as either big-game or trophy-game species. In a number of states over the last 30 years, sociopolitical processes forced wildlife agencies to study the mountain lion populations, to report on findings and to recommend conservation and management methods to policy makers.


Science-based Management to Achieve Goals and Objectives


So what is the appropriate role of the state wildlife agency in managing mountain lions based on science?


In California, emphasis is placed on protecting important habitat, on responding to public safety incidents and on improving public awareness of mountain lions as the state wildlife agency tries to deal with the pressures caused by a human population of over 35 million. By contrast, in Idaho with a human population of less than 1.5 million, there is more emphasis placed on providing diverse hunting opportunities and on managing mountain lions in conjunction with prey species, including bighorn sheep, deer and elk.


Public policy goals for mountain lion management can either assist or hinder the state wildlife agency in implementing science-based management of the species. If the policies provide a strong mission statement for the agency, if the agency has a well qualified professional staff and if adequate funding is provided, the environment for science-based adaptive management is enhanced. However, if a state's public-policy goals for mountain lion management are not clear, if it lacks well qualified professional staff or if it lacks adequate funding to implement a balanced program, effective science-based management of mountain lions cannot be expected.


Management in Response to State Holder Values


In general, state wildlife agencies respond to public input and stakeholder values regarding wildlife, including mountain lions. Stakeholder values are generally reflected in the state's laws and policies regarding mountain lion management, het they may not represent the full range of current public values as human demographics are changing rapidly in the western states. There may also be lag time in public values translating to laws and policies through the normal legislative and commission processes. This delay can also result from the influence of special-interest stakeholders and political pressure to resist change.




The role of state wildlife agencies in managing mountain lions involves a combination of factors unique to each state, including laws, policies, an agency's mission and stakeholder values. Recently, a working group published Cougar Management Guidelines (Guidelines; Beck et al. 2005) in an effort to synthesize and organize available information on management of the species. Although the western state wildlife agencies recognize that these Guidelines contain useful information, the process used to develop them and the final product raised concerns related, primarily, to failure of the authors to incorporate agency recommendations for changes to the draft document they were asked to review.


At the end of the day, the ultimate responsibility for managing mountain lions rests with the individual state wildlife agencies. The challenge facing each agency is how best to adaptively implement science-based management while maintaining viable populations in conjunction with prey species and responding to stakeholder demands for sustainable hunting opportunities and minimizing conflicts with humans involving livestock damage and public safety.








Managing Predator-Prey Systems: Summary Discussion


Mark S. Boyce

University of Alberta

Edmonton, Alberta


Robert L. Byrne

Safari Club International Foundation

Washington, D.C.




Many studies have demonstrated population consequences of predators on prey populations, but how managers should use this information is not easy to decide. Predator control can be effective at enhancing survival and recruitment in populations of prey, but certain methods for controlling predators sometimes meet with fierce resistance from the public.


Conflict with predators


Public reaction is often intense when predators kill pets, and cougar and wolf predation on dogs is relatively common and apparently increasing (Treves et al. 2002; Beck et al. 2005) Likewise, humans themselves are occasionally killed by large carnivores, triggering fear and resentment towards offending animals (Packer and Kissui 2007).


With expansion of cougar and wolf populations in North America during the past decade, wildlife managers are faced with a new dimension in trying to manage big game populations in the face of predation levels that did not exist in previous decades.




 Keeping wolf and cougar populations in check might require reducing alternate prey (Gibson 2006; Wielgus 2007). Control of abundant mule deer populations in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California might be required in addition to reductions in cougar numbers to prevent extirpation of Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep populations (Gibson 2006).


We believe that wildlife managers have not fully taken advantage of the opportunity to involve hunters and trappers in harvesting predators, and we need to understand how to use these people more effectively in predator management (Hammill 2007). Even though large numbers of predators are taken by hunters and trappers, they often are not very effective at achieving predator control (Zager et al. 2007) because predators are not removed from populations where predator control is most needed.




Last modified on Friday, 17 July 2009 14:30
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