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Utah DWR recommends no change to controversial unlimited, year-round cougar hunting law

Mountain lions in Utah
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
Mountain lions in Utah

The Division of Wildlife Resources says residents can hunt cougars without restriction all year in Utah. The DWR won’t recommend changes to the controversial 2023 law.

A bill passed in 2023 legalized the unlimited, year-round hunting and trapping of cougars. All that’s needed is a basic hunting license. However, cougars are still considered protected wildlife and harvests must be reported to the DWR.

Some lawmakers argued the provision was needed to keep cougar populations in check. But wildlife groups like the Mountain Lion Foundation filed suit, saying the law was unconstitutional.

Brent Lyles, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation, said the bill was a “hastily written and ill-conceived law” that “opened up the door for every mountain lion in Utah to be killed.”

Despite the controversy, the DWR is not recommending any changes to cougar hunting right now because harvest rates haven’t significantly changed. DWR game mammals coordinator Darren DeBloois said the team wants more information before it suggests any updates.

“We didn't want to make any drastic changes and collect data for another year and then make some determinations about how those legislative changes and how our rule changes last year are impacting cougar harvest,” he said.

Biologists have been monitoring harvest rates since the law went into effect in May of 2023 and DeBloois said, so far, harvest numbers are similar to previous years. From May 2022 to May 2023, 512 cougars were harvested in Utah. From May 2023 to May 2024, that number was one less at 511.

“The biggest difference is we saw fewer numbers of cougars taken with the aid of dogs, but the difference was made up by people either just hunting what we call a ‘spot and stalk,’ so they're not using any kind of hunting aids they're just trying to find a mountain lion and then harvest it that way, and then the other portion of that would be trapping,” DeBloois said.

Trapping was also legalized in the 2023 bill. Hunters can use lethal or foothold traps to capture the animals.

The DWR will continue to monitor cougar harvesting rates and may recommend changes in the future.