The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources has voted to increase permits for hunting cougars this year from 531 to 581. Aside from the arrogance of ending an animal’s life for no reason beyond trophies and long-held customs is the risk that we might be reducing our cougar populations to dangerously low levels.

These beautiful lions are chased, sometimes for hours, by a pack of dogs until treed. Left with no route to escape, they are then unceremoniously shot. While the emotional capacity of animals has been debated for years, few would deny they experience fear and pain. Admirably, the DWR has a cougar management plan, but admits that due to the reclusive nature of cats, it cannot accurately determine the population of mountain lions in the state.

They extrapolate using information from animals harvested (a disparaging term) to arrive at the permits issued each year. Limits exist on the number of females taken but they will tell you that it is very difficult to distinguish a male from a female in the field. Females spend 75 percent of their lives either pregnant or nurturing their young. How many cubs will not be born and how many existing cubs will be lost to starvation or predation because their mother was killed?

What also appears to be missing from the state’s methods is the impact of habitat loss and habitat fragmentation by development. Fragmentation can sequester animals, making it difficult mating in a wider gene pool. California highways have had the effect of trapping their cougars on “islands” and the same has been true of China’s pandas.

Because of our historical impact on nature, we are often compelled to manage it.

Evidence such as our conjecture regarding the size of our cougar population would suggest how little we know about how the natural works and the consequences of increasing our impact on wild lands and wildlife.

Paul Zuckerman

Salt Lake City