Last week, a trophy hunter killed a mountain lion in Nebraska and posted a photo of himself on social media with the dead animal, a one-and-a-half-year-old male. While most Americans would find this unnecessary killing of a majestic native carnivore horrifying by itself, the facts behind this killing are even more outrageous. There are just an estimated 40 adult and teenage mountain lions now living in Nebraska, and rather than protect them, the state is playing into the hands of trophy hunters by letting them go after these beautiful animals.
This is the second consecutive year that Nebraska has opened season on its lions. One would think the state would value them more, because they were completely wiped out in Nebraska by the early 1900s due to intense predator culling. Before that, mountain lions roamed throughout Nebraska. It was only in 2007 that the Game and Parks department documented the return of mountain lions in the northwestern region of the state known as the Pine Ridge, with evidence of a reproducing population.
The numbers have grown slowly since, but with just 40 adult and sub-adult (a stage between dependent kitten and adult) lions, this is a fragile population and they must be protected. The state’s annual quota allows trophy hunters to kill a staggering 20 percent of the Pine Ridge population, far more than what experts believe is sustainable. The loss of just one mountain lion can have tragic consequences for such a small population, because of the disruption it causes to their sensitive social communities.
Nebraska is not the only state making wrongheaded decisions on its lions. Next door, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has proposed increasing its annual hunting quota to a distressing 664 mountain lions across the state. The agency’s rough estimates of its mountain lion population – 2,000 to 3,000 adults and sub-adults – are based on anecdotal evidence and small-scale research, and even if they were accurate, it would mean Colorado will allow trophy hunters to kill nearly 30% of this mountain lion population.
Utah’s Division of Wildlife Resources also recently authorized a quota of nearly 700 mountain lions for the state’s most recent hunting season, which could decimate 40% of the state’s mountain lion population, if not more, because unlimited hunting is allowed in some regions.
In what could be described as a small step in the right direction, however, the Utah Wildlife Board this week passed regulations to limit the number of hounds that can be used to pursue mountain lions and black bears, though the limit is still extremely high at 16 hounds. The board also approved a proposal to require mountain lion and black bear hunters to take an ethical hunting course prior to obtaining a permit to pursue or trophy-hunt these animals.
The good news is that there is growing public opposition to the hunting of native carnivores, and there are a few states that have made great progress on protecting their mountain lion populations. In November, the New Mexico State Game Commission voted to end recreational trapping of these wild cats, and the ban will take effect later this year. California has had a long-standing ban on the trophy hunting of mountain lions – a ban that has withstood court challenges from trophy hunters. Oregonians and Washingtonians banned the use of hounds to trophy hunt mountain lions and black bears through ballot initiatives and continue, year after year, to defeat efforts by trophy hunting interests to bring back this inhumane hunting practice.
A number of studies, including a recent one from Colorado State University, show that Americans highly value wildlife, including top carnivores such as mountain lions, and are concerned about their welfare and conservation. Surveys also show that a majority of Americans do not support trophy hunting and other cruel forms of killing.
The number of wildlife watchers, who would rather see a beautiful animal alive in the wild, is also growing – by an estimated 20 percent between 2011 and 2016 alone, according to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report. On the other hand, the numbers of hunters who target big game have greatly declined and pale in comparison to wildlife watcher numbers and dollars spent on various activities that value wild animals in their natural spaces rather than killing them as trophies.
There are 14 states that now allow mountain lion hunts, and the Humane Society of the United States is fighting to end this practice in each one of them. Colorado will vote this week on its mountain lion quota at a meeting of the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in Denver on January 15th and 16th and we will be there to speak out against it, just as we will continue to speak out against the unnecessary killing of America’s iconic native carnivores and the trophy hunting of animals anywhere in the world. If you are in the Denver area, please join us and make your voice heard against the trophy hunting of native carnivores.