One of the more contentious fights over hunting in Utah comes when cougar permit numbers are set.
That could be the case again this year.
Division of Wildlife Resources biologists say the big cats are doing well in the state so they are recommending a slight increase in the number of permits for the upcoming season.
They are recommending an increase of 531 to 565 permits for the upcoming season. Biologists say that since not every permit holder takes a cougar, the number taken will likely be lower. Last season, for example, hunters killed 400 cougars.
Regional Advisory Council meetings begin July 25 and will also consider bobcat recommendations. To review the recommendations and see the times and locations for the RAC meetings, log on to www.wildlife.utah.gov/public_meetings.
The public can either attend an RAC meeting or comment by sending an email.
DWR biologists argue that keeping cougar numbers in check helps protect deer, bighorn sheep and livestock numbers in Utah.
"A male cougar will breed with several females," said DWR game mammals coordinator Darren Deblooois. "So keeping plenty of females in the population is important. The number of adults is also important. A healthy population will have plenty of adults in it. If the number of adults starts to decline, we know the overall number of cougars in the population is declining too."
DWR biologists say the state's Cougar Management Plan provides guidelines that help ensure Utah has a healthy and stable cougar population. The two major guidelines are the number of female cougars hunters take — compared to the number of males — and the number of cougars taken that are 5 years of age or older. Only 40 percent of the cougars that hunters can take can be females. And at least 15 percent must be five years of age or older.
Statistics show that during the last season, 28 percent of the cougars taken were females. And 23 percent of the cougars taken were 5 years of age or older.
— Tom Wharton