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SALT LAKE CITY — During a recent meeting, the Utah Wildlife Board approved a slight increase to the number of cougar permits for the upcoming hunting season.
During the 2017-18 season, 581 cougar permits were offered, and in July, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists recommended increasing it to 653 hunting permits for the 2018-19 season. However, the state board ended up approving 642 permits, according to a DWR news release.
Even with the increase in permits, wildlife officials say that it is unlikely that many animals will be harvested. Only 456 cougars were harvested out of the 581 permits offered last hunting season, according to wildlife officials.
“Cougars are tough to hunt,” DWR game mammals coordinator Darren DeBloois said in a news release. “Not every hunter who gets a permit will take one.”
The number of cougar permits was slightly increased the last two consecutive seasons as well. The 5 percent increase in permits for the 2016-17 hunting season triggered backlash from the Humane Society, which argues the increase is unnecessary and nothing more than a way to appease trophy hunters, according to the Associated Press.
The increased permits have been due to cougar populations growing and doing well across the state, according to wildlife biologists. The state's cougar populations have grown about 3 percent annually since 2004, the Associated Press reported.
And cougars weren’t the only animals to have increased hunting permits for the 2018-19 season. Buck deer, buck pronghorn, bull moose and Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep hunts, among a variety of other big-game animals hunts, were also awarded additional permits at a meeting held on April 26.
Wildlife biologists will continue to monitor the cougar population, and any hunter who does harvest a cougar during the hunting season must bring the animal to a DWR biologist or a conservation officer.
“The first thing we do is examine the animal to see if it’s a male or a female,” DeBloois said in the news release. “Next, we determine the animal’s age by removing and analyzing one of its teeth.”
DeBloois said wildlife biologists keep track of the cougars because the number of females and the number of adults in a cougar population are the key factors in keeping the population healthy and strong.
“A male cougar will breed with several females, so keeping plenty of females in the population is important,” he said. “The number of adults is also important. A healthy population will have plenty of adults. If the number of adults starts to decline, we know the overall number of cougars in the population is declining too.”
The state’s management plan for cougars says that not more than 40 percent of the cougars harvested during the season can be females, and at least 15 percent of the cougars taken must be 5 years of age or older.
Applications for cougar hunting permits open Tuesday.