Arizona's Kofa Wildlife Refuge
 

MOUNTAIN LIONS IN THE STATE OF ARIZONA

Between 1917 and 2011, at least 18,372 mountain lions have been killed by humans in Arizona, with almost 60 percent of these deaths occurring since mountain lions were classified as game animals in 1970. We estimate that Arizona has approximately 1,750 mountain lions, with one-third of these younger than three-years of age.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (ADFGD) uses "Open Hunting", which allows the killing of an unlimited numbers of mountain lions of either sex during the legal hunting season.

SUMMARY: Cougars in the State of Arizona




Cougar Habitat and Population in Arizona

The state of Arizona encompasses 113,635 square miles (294,313 km2) of land. The main portion of Arizona's best mountain lion habitat is distributed in a wide diagonal band stretching diagonally across the state. The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) has the authority for managing mountain lions over 72,157 square miles (186,885 km2) of mountain lion habitat covering almost 63 percent of the state. Additionally, an unknown amount of mountain lion habitat falls under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service (4,200 sq mi. or 10,877 km2), or is located on tribal lands (29,500 sq. mi or 76,404 km2). Data on mountain lion population estimates, suitable habitat, and human-caused mountain lion mortalities for these 33,700 square miles is unavailable to MLF at this time.

In 2003, AZGFD estimated that there were approximately 1,000 to 2,500 mountain lions on their lands. At that time, wildlife biologist D. J. Schubert conducted an in-depth analysis of AZGFD's management policies and mortality data and concluded that their mountain lion population estimates were suspect because:

  1. projections of suitable mountain lion habitat are not based on defensible biological information;
  2. projections are subjectively determined by regional personnel;
  3. projections can be (and reportedly have been) altered to increase population estimates;
  4. projections assume that mountain lion habitat is saturated to its highest biological level; and
  5. projections rely on estimates of mountain lion densities that are higher than the reported literature.

So far (2012), AZGFD has not yet addressed Dr. Schubert's concerns. In a strategic planning report AZGFD describes the state's mountain lion population as "robust" and estimated the animal's population level to be between 2,500 to 3,000. AZGFD explains the population increase as the result of an abundance of deer and discounts other lion population estimates as being too conservative.

At this time, the Mountain Lion Foundation mistrusts the "official" estimate, and believes the supposed increase to be an artificial construct designed to accommodate higher lion hunting quotas. Until an acceptable, peer-reviewed study of Arizona's lion population is produced to change our opinion, MLF estimates that state's lion population to be approximately 1,750 animals. Of this number, an estimated 1/3rd consists of kittens and subadults younger than three-years old.

Arizona currently uses what AZGFD calls Open Hunting to manage the state's mountain lion population. "Open hunting" allows the killing of an unlimited numbers of mountain lions of either sex in areas delimited only by hunter choice during the legal hunting season.

History of Mountain Lion Management in Arizona

In 1919, mountain lions in Arizona were classified as a "predatory animal" by the territorial legislature and a bounty of $50 was paid for each one killed. While Arizona reclassified mountain lions as "big game" animals in 1970, the bounty law remained on the books as a non-funded program until its repeal in 1990. During the 51 years Arizona's mountain lion bounty was in effect, 7,723 mountain lions were killed and turned in to the government for the bounty.

At the same time that lions were listed as big game animals, the Arizona legislature revised Statue 17-302 to allow the killing of mountain lions for depredation purposes. In 1990, the state's depredation policy changed to require that there be an actual loss of livestock prior to lethal removal of mountain lions.

In the year 2000, Arizona Game and Fish Department established a wildlife predation management policy, which in part called for the killing of individual mountain lions or the suppression of resident mountain lion populations where ungulate numbers (deer, elk, big horn sheep, etc.) are considered to be below AZGFD management goals, or when conducting transplants of species such as bighorn sheep and pronghorn. According to this policy, the Department can increase the number of lions killed by hunters or trappers, or authorize department personnel and other individuals to kill mountain lions to achieve these policy ends. For several years now AZGFD has consistently increased quotas and bag limits in several of their Game Management Units (GMUs) in an effort to reduce the resident population of mountain lions, citing concern about the health and well being of bighorn sheep and mule deer populations.

In its 2001 Strategic Plan, AZGFD stated that the goals of its mountain lion management strategy were to "manage the mountain lion population, its numbers and distribution as an important part of Arizona's fauna [and to] provide mountain lion hunting (including hunting with dogs) and other related recreational opportunities." The department's stated objectives are to:

  1. "maintain an annual harvest of between 250 to 300 mountain lions (including depredation takes),
  2. provide recreational opportunities for 3,000 to 6,000 sport hunters per year; and
  3. maintain existing occupied habitat, and maintain the present range of mountain lions in Arizona."

In 2003, Arizona Game and Fish Department, in accordance with its wildlife predation management policy, proposed intensive mountain lion removal projects in several western Game Management Units in conjunction with their bighorn sheep relocation program. Arizona currently (2012) has a year-round trophy hunting season on mountain lions, as well as predator "contest shoots," in which prizes are given for shooting as many coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and mountain lions as possible.

Currently (2012), AZGFD's mountain lion management policy remains relatively the same as that stated in its 2001 Strategic Plan.

Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Arizona

Between 1917 and 2011, at least 18,372 mountain lions have been killed by humans in Arizona, with almost 60 percent of these deaths occurring since mountain lions were classified as game animals in 1970. This fact is reflected in a 2009 AZGFD report which noted that the sale of mountain lion hunting tags had "annually increased from about 3,000 in 1990 to nearly 11,000 by 2007."

However this claim of an ever increasing constituency of lion hunters was repudiated in 2011 when AZGFD personnel attending the 2011 Mountain Lion Workshop (a national conference for state game agency personnel) voiced dissatisfaction over the declining number of mountain lion hunters. According to them, to offset this reduction, the agency was beginning to offer lion tags in multiple hunt license "combo" packages to interest the incidental deer or elk hunter that accidently came across a lion. Without the public (trophy hunters) to help AZGFD meet their management objective of killing off between 250 to 300 hundred lion each year, the representative indicated that there would need to be more administrative removal programs and eventually the Department may be forced to return to "the dark ages" and employ the public's help to "balance wildlife populations" -- implying a bounty program that would pay residents for their assistance in slaughtering mountain lions.

Frustration was also voiced by AZGDF personnel over the killing of bighorn sheep (a lion's natural prey species) on the KofA (King of Arizona Mine) National Wildlife Refuge by the refuge's resident mountain lions. Bighorn sheep (a highly valued trophy animal) raised at the refuge are raffled off to big game hunters for special hunts, and are also used to reestablish herds throughout the west. Being a money-making game species, the Department wanted to preemptively kill lions living on the refuge to provide a "safe haven" for those sheep. Due to public outcry this plan was scrapped in favor of lethally removing any lion that kills more than one of the refuge's bighorn sheep over a six-month period.

Arizona Female Lion Mortalities

Along with most states where the hunting of mountain lions takes place, Arizona makes a token attempt to protect the state's female lions. Arizona's current hunting regulations restrict the killing of females with kittens. But AZGFD is also considering targeting female lions for eradication in areas which include large scale livestock operations, and its "Open Hunting" harvest management approach limits the effectiveness of their "mother with kittens" restrictions because most lion hunters can't determine a lion's sex even after it has been killed, much less ascertain whether the animal seen from a distance is a lactating female with kittens hidden back in a den.

In 2003, the Arizona Game and Fish Department provided a gender breakdown of its mountain lion sport hunting harvests for the years 1998 through 2001. During this 4-year period 48 percent (541) of the total sport hunting mortalities were female mountain lions. A similar review took place for the years 2004 through 2007 where the percentage of females killed remained at 48 percent.

According to one major study (Anderson and Lindzey 2005), when adult females consistently comprise greater than 35 percent of the overall harvest, resident mountain lion abundance may be reduced. While noting this study in their 2009 Conservations Strategies Report, AZGFD ignores the study's ramifications and denies any reduction in the state's lion population. AZGFD insists their opinion of an increasing lion population justifies the need to increase overall mortality levels by whatever means.

Human/Lion Conflicts in Arizona

Arizona's human population is expected to double to about 12 million by the year 2050, and the state's urban areas will continue to expand into and overlap with mountain lion habitat. A Mountain Lion Action Plan was developed in 2004 to address the issue of human/lion conflicts and provide response guidance for AZGFD field personnel. The plan categorizes conflicts as sighting, encounter, incident, or attack based on acceptable or unacceptable behaviors by mountain lions. Department responses are guided by the action plan for each category. Reports of all lion/human conflicts are entered into a centralized Human-Wildlife Interaction Database.

Public Opinion about Lions in Arizona

In the 2005 Attitudes Toward Urban Wildlife Among Residents of Phoenix and Tucson survey, residents were asked whether or not mountain lions are "dangerous:" 44 percent agreed and 44 percent disagreed. Of those respondents, only 21 percent think that mountain lions are a threat to personal safety, while 72 percent believe they are not a threat. In the survey, 80 percent of the public accepted destroying a mountain lion that is a "threat to human safety" or is an "established threat to pets and livestock." According to Arizona residents in the survey, 33 percent think the mountain lion population is declining, 15 percent think mountain lions are endangered, 1 percent think they are extinct, and only 19 percent think the population is stable.

When asked about controlling mountain lions, 65 percent of the public found it acceptable "to protect endangered or threatened wildlife" and 55 percent found it acceptable "to protect wildlife populations that are declining." However, less than 50 percent found it acceptable "to increase numbers of big game animals."

Arizona's Killing Fields

Based on a lion-mortality density model developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation, Arizona averages 0.45 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. The eleven western state average is 0.65. Using MLF's mortality ranking system, Arizona ranks 8th amongst the 11 western states studied by MLF in reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

A review of average annual mountain lion mortality numbers at the Game Management Unit (GMU) level clearly defines Arizona's diagonal band of habitat with the highest concentration of mountain lion kills located in the southeastern quarter of the state. Game Management Units 27, 28, 31, and 32 in particular stand out with their disproportionate annual average mountain lion mortality numbers. An analysis of these GMUs from 1997 to 2001 shows a higher proportion of depredation related lion mortalities than experienced elsewhere in the state. This coupled with sport hunting kills raised the annual average mountain lion mortality numbers to levels not seen elsewhere within the state.

Using MLF's mortality ranking system, the top five Game Management Units in Arizona where human-caused mountain lion mortalities were greatest were numbers 27, 31, 32, 17 and 21. From 1997 to 2001, these GMUs accounted for 485 human-caused mountain lion mortalities. During this time period, these GMUs were responsible for 29 percent of human-caused mountain lion mortalities while encompassing only 9 percent of Arizona Game and Fish Department's mountain lion habitat.

Game Management Unit -27 is ranked as Arizona's number one killing field of mountain lions with an average mortality density rating of 1.8--almost twice the study average. From 1997 to 2001, GMU-27 averaged 25 human-caused mountain lion mortalities per year and accounted for 7 percent of all the state's human-caused mountain lion mortalities during that time period.

Mountain Lion Research in Arizona

Arizona Urban Mountain Lion Study

In this north-central Arizona study, AZGFD investigated the distribution, movement, and survival of mountain lions within a 1,200 km2 area of land near the community of Payson, and within a 4,600 km2 area of land near the community of Prescott during 2006 and 2007. The objective of the study was to determine distribution and movements of mountain lions in these hunted populations within residential-urbanized and wildland areas. Additionally AZGFD wanted basic insights into the following questions on how mountain lions use residential-urbanized areas:

  1. Do lions enter them frequently?
  2. Do lions explore these areas briefly, and then leave?
  3. Do lions just move through them?
  4. Do lions use these areas as part of their normal habitats?

As part of the study, 18 mountain lions (5 females, 13 males) were captured and fitted with a GPS telemetry collar equipped with a pre-programmed timed-release mechanism and mortality-sensing option, allowing the collars to be retrieved. Study animals were then immediately released. Marked animals were located continually by ground telemetry, with GPS fix location data uploaded from a fixed-wing aircraft one or two times per month. Five of the study lions (2 female, 3 male) occupied only wildland habitat. Twelve of the study lions (2 female, 10 male) associated with residential-urbanized areas.

According to this study, individual mountain lions seem to be highly variable in their use of residential-urbanized areas. Mountain lions entered some residential-urbanized areas frequently, explored some briefly and left, simply moved through some, and used others as part of their normal habitats. However one fact became quite apparent. Despite extensive or occasional use of residential-urbanized habitats by marked mountain lions, local human residents seldom reported encounters or sightings, except when a lion was killed by hunters or a vehicle.

Arizona's Mountain Lions and Other Wildlife

Of all the large felids, mountain lions kill the largest prey relative to their own body mass. Mountain lions are obligate carnivores with diverse diets and ungulates (primarily deer) comprise nearly 70 percent of that diet in North America. Mountain lion-prey relationships are complex and likely involve interactions between abiotic and biotic variables that can be difficult to quantify.

Currently in Arizona, mountain lions are managed to minimize adverse impacts on other wildlife species--specifically "Big Game" species such as bighorn sheep. This is accomplished through the Arizona Game and Fish Commission Predation Management Policy, which states: "Actions by the Arizona Game and Fish Department (department) should be based on the best available scientific information. Mountain lions and coyotes will be managed to ensure their future ecological, intrinsic, scientific, educational, and recreational values, to minimize conflict with humans, and to minimize adverse impacts on other wildlife populations."

There are currently two predator management plans (Black Mountains and KofA National Wildlife Refuge) that address mountain lion removals for adverse impacts on other wildlife populations. The Black Mountain Plan uses a desert bighorn sheep survey rate as a management trigger for removal of mountain lions while the KofA Plan uses an offending lion definition of more than one desert bighorn sheep killed by a mountain lion in a six month period. Lethal removals are made by contracted lion hunter/trappers.

Mountain Lions Killed for Depredation in Arizona

Predator control efforts in Arizona between 1919 and 1969, when the state legislature offered a bounty on mountain lions, resulted in the deaths of 7,723 lions. In 1970, mountain lions were classified as big game animals, and the regulated killing of mountain lions for preying on livestock began in 1971. The killing of mountain lions involved in livestock depredation is now authorized in Arizona through Title 17 of the Arizona Revised Statutes (2007), subsection 17-302.

As a result, approximately 30 lions are killed in Arizona each year under what AZGFD refers to as "depredation harvests." The overwhelming number of these mortalities (90 percent) are a result of cattle predation, and 98 percent of those deaths involved calves.

Depredation of cattle by mountain lions occurs in 11 western states, but the highest reported number of incidents are in Arizona where about 850 livestock operators presently graze about 56,000 cattle on public lands. Predation of cattle by mountain lions primarily takes place in 12 of Arizona's 15 counties, with 5 counties (Mohave [6.3 percent], Gila [7.7 percent], Graham [47.6 percent], Greenlee [24.2 percent], and Yavapai [6.5 percent]), accounting for 92 percent of all depredation kills (1976 - 2005). These five counties extend from northwestern to southeastern Arizona, and encompass an estimated area of about 85,160 km2, or about 28.9 percent of the area of Arizona and 35 percent of state's mountain lion habitat. Vegetation types and topography within these five counties probably increase the likelihood that livestock will suffer from mountain lion predation. Further, the elevations are relatively low, temperatures are moderate, and the habitat found in these counties is conducive to year-long stocking of cow-calf livestock operations.

A review of 30 years (1976-2005) of lion depredation harvest statistics by AZGFD came up with some interesting conclusions and possibly points the way to reducing this form of human/lion conflict throughout the west.

  1. The highest predation of cattle by mountain lions corresponds with the period of seasonal production of calves in free-ranging herds (between January and June).
  2. Depredation of cattle by mountain lions is often higher if free ranging cow-calf herds are grazed in areas of rugged terrain and dense vegetation cover, and if abundance of prey (deer) other than cattle is comparatively low.
  3. Killing depredating mountain lions provides only a short-term solution for preventing or reducing losses of cattle.
  4. Reducing livestock depredation primarily requires a modification of present husbandry practices such as:
  • Avoiding the placement of livestock within good mountain lion habitat when calves are present.
  • Changing the type and age of livestock (e.g., switching to adult cattle, avoiding calves).
  • Improving habitat and encouraging healthy wildlife communities, including deer, on ranges grazed by livestock.


Last Update: February 14, 2012

ON AIR: Ashwin Naidu on Forensics and Genetics

11/21/10 An Audio Interview with Craig Fergus, MLF Volunteer

In this edition of our audio podcast ON AIR, volunteer Craig Fergus interviews geneticist Ashwin Naidu about his work studying mountain lions and their diet in southwestern Arizona via non-invasive genetic techniques.

ARIZONA MOUNTAIN LIONS: LAW & REGULATION


In Arizona's legal code, Puma concolor is generally referred to as "mountain lion."

Species Status

The species is classified as a game mammal, along with deer, elk, bear, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, bison, peccary, tree squirrels, and cottontail rabbits. The species is also classified as big game, along with wild turkey, deer, elk, bear, pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, bison, peccary, and bear.

Rather than directly protecting animals, Arizona's endangered species law merely creates a fund that is to be spent in preservation of threatened habitats.

State Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of Arizona is governed by the Arizona Revised Statutes - the state's collection of its laws, updated at the end of each legislative cycle. Arizona also collects its department regulations in the Arizona Administrative Code. Since our summary below may not be completely up to date, you should be sure to review the most current laws and regulations for the State of Arizona.

You can check the statutes directly at a state-managed website: http://www.azleg.gov/ArizonaRevisedStatutes.asp These statutes are searchable. Be sure to use the name "mountain lion" to accomplish your searches.

The Legislature

The Arizona state legislature is a bicameral legislature consisting of a lower chamber - the House of Representatives - and an upper chamber - the Senate. The House of Representatives is made up of 60 members, and the Senate is made up of 30 members. Members of both chambers serve 2-year terms and are limited to four consecutive terms. If you do not know in which legislative district you live, Arizona maintains this website to help you find your district. If you already know in which district you live, you can contact your legislator by using the House of Representatives' membership roster and the Senate's membership roster.

The legislature meets annually with the session beginning on the second Monday of January and normally running until late June. The governor may call special sessions when he/she feels it necessary. During special sessions, the legislature may only pass laws related to the subject for which the governor has called the session.

State Regulation

Arizona's wildlife regulations can be found in Chapter 4 of the Natural Resources section of the Arizona Administrative Code. The Arizona Game and Fish Commission sets the regulations found in that chapter.

Arizona Game and Fish Commission

The Arizona Game and Fish Commission is a five-member board appointed by the governor. Members serve five-year terms, which expire on the third Monday in January of their final year. No two members may be residents of the same county, and no more than three members may belong to the same political party. The commission sets Arizona's regulations for managing wildlife and fisheries. It also regulates watercraft and off-highway vehicle use.

Arizona Game and Fish Department

The Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) enforces the state's wildlife laws and the Game and Fish Commission's regulations. The AZGFD is a stand-alone department within the executive branch of the Arizona state government.

The Arizona Game and Fish Department reviews, revises, and reports on mountain lion conservation strategies when the Game and Fish Commission directs it to do so. As of 2014, the latest report appears to be the 2009 Mountain Lion and Bear Conservation Strategies Report. The report was written by "wildlife scientists and managers," two of whom were not employed by the AZGFD. The commission takes no action on the report itself but can implement its recommendations in future public sessions. There do not appear to be written guidelines as to when a new report is to be issued.

Hunting Law

Hunting of mountain lions is allowed in the State of Arizona. The regulations governing "recreational" hunting of mountain lions specify 76 units. AZGFD's hunting regulations booklet states that mountain lion season runs from July 1 to June 30.

Hound hunting is allowed.

Arizona allows the hunting of mountain lions with centerfire rifles, muzzleloading rifles, all rifles using black powder or synthetic black powder, centerfire handguns, handguns using black powder or synthetic black powder, shotguns using slugs or shot, bows with a standard pull of 30 or more pounds, and crossbows with a minimum draw weight of 125 pounds. Arizona also allows hunting with the assistance of artificial light as long as the light is not attached to or operated from a motor vehicle, motorized watercraft, watercraft under sail, or floating object towed by a motorized watercraft or a watercraft under sail.

Arizona prohibits hunting spotted kittens and females accompanied by kittens. However, Arizona does not appear to set season limits for mountain lion harvest. Hunters are allowed to take one mountain lion per year except in units with a "multiple bag limit." In units with a multiple bag limit, hunters may take one mountain lion per day until the multiple bag limit is reached. Once the multiple bag limit has been reached, the season remains open and reverts to the calendar year bag limit of one mountain lion.

Public Safety Law

Arizona law allows any person to kill wildlife "in self-defense or in defense of another person if it is immediately necessary to protect oneself or to protect the other person." That person must notify the Arizona Game and Fish Department within five days. No portion of the animal may be retained sold, or removed from the site without permission from the AZGFD.

Depredation Law

Depredation law in Arizona is monitored by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The law specifies that a landowner or lessee whose livestock has been attacked by a mountain lion may dispatch of the depredating lion with leg hold traps without teeth, leg snares, firearms, and "other legal hunting weapons and devices." After beginning to pursue a mountain lion, a livestock operator must notify the AZGFD within five days. The AZGFD may request that the livestock operator provide them with reasonable evidence that the livestock was attacked by a mountain lion. After killing a lion, the operator may not keep any portion of the carcass without permission from the Arizona Game and Fish Commission. The law also states that no lion taken alive may be kept in captivity.

Owners of domestic animals do not appear to be required to take any specified steps to protect their pets or livestock. There also does not appear to be a government-funded compensation program for losses of domestic animals to mountain lions.

Trapping

Mountain lions may not be trapped for fur in Arizona. The laws governing trapping in Arizona specify that licensed trappers may trap predatory, nongame, and fur-bearing species. Arizona classifies mountain lions as game mammals and does not include them on its list of either predatory or fur-bearing species.

Poaching

Poaching law in the State of Arizona provides some protection of mountain lions in law, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. Anyone who takes a mountain lion during a closed season, in an area closed to mountain lion hunting, through the use of an unlawful device or method, in excess of the bag limit, or possesses or transports a mountain lion or parts of a mountain lion that was unlawfully taken is guilty of a class 2 misdemeanor. A class 2 misdemeanor is punishable by up to 4 months of imprisonment. Anyone who knowingly takes a mountain lion during a closed season or who knowingly possesses, transports, or buys any big game that was unlawfully taken during a closed season is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor, which is punishable by up to 6 months of imprisonment. Finally, any person who barters, sells, or offers for sale any mountain lion or a part of a mountain lion taken unlawfully is guilty of a class 6 felony. The duration of imprisonment for a felony is determined by the court. In addition to the criminal proceedings, the Arizona Game and Fish Commission or any of its officers may bring a civil lawsuit against the poacher, seeking a minimum of $1,500 in damages per lion.

Road Mortalities

The Arizona Department of Transportation does not keep records of mountain lions killed on the State's roads.



Last Update: April 24, 2014