Utah's Bryce Canyon at sunrise/set over rocky cliffs.
 
Photo of Zion canyon with water flowing through high rocky cliffs.

COUGAR HABITAT IN UTAH

Unlimited hunt zones and cougars blamed for mule deer declines are threatening wildlife.

Approximately forty percent of the state is considered cougar habitat. The adaptable felines are able to survive in most of the juniper, mesic, aspen and conifer dominated forested regions of the higher mountains and plateaus.

Keep in mind that although cougars are physically capable of living in these places (based on geographical, vegetative and prey species characteristics), it does not mean they necessarily do. Fragmentation, sport hunting practices, and intolerant communities can wipe out cougars from any area. For more information about where cougar populations actually live, check out our Science tab.

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Cougar Habitat and Population in Utah

The State of Utah encompasses approximately 220,000 square kilometers of land (85,000 square miles). The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) states that cougars can be found in forested regions of the state, which represent around 92,696 square kilometers (35,790 square miles) of land, or approximately forty percent of the state.

UTAH COUGAR HABITAT
Map showing cougar habitat largely fragmented in the state, main portion running from NE to SW.

Click on map to enlarge.

According to UDWR, "cougars occupy 92,696 km2 (35,790 mi2) of habitat. Cougars are distributed throughout all available eco-regions and exhibit a broad habitat tolerance occurring from the semi-arid low-elevation pinion-juniper belt, to the mesic, aspen and conifer dominated forests of the higher mountains and plateaus. Habitat quality varies by ecoregion with the Colorado Plateau and Great Basin containing smaller, naturally fragmented habitats with lower cougar densities, and the mountain ecoregions comprised of relatively large, mesic patches (Stoner et al. 2013a).

Residential and commercial development is incrementally reducing cougar distribution through habitat alteration and destruction, particularly along the western border of the Wasatch Mountains in northern and central Utah. The last statewide cougar population estimates were developed in conjunction with the Utah Cougar Management Plan in 1999."

These early UDWR calculations estimated anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 cougars in the state. More recent research in the United States and peer-reviewed publications by leading cougar biologists indicate cougar density is roughly 1.7 resident adults per 100 square kilometers of habitat.

With about 93,000 square kilometers of habitat, Utah's cougar population is currently somewhere around 1,600 animals and likely declining due to increased trophy hunting and habitat loss.

Linking a Cougar Decline, Trophic Cascade, and Catastrophic Regime Shift in Zion National Park

03/26/15 Guest Commentary by William Ripple and Robert Beschta

Ripple and Beschta's work in Zion National Park was one of the first major studies to help demonstrate the importance of top predators in maintaining healthy, diverse landscapes. When the park gained popularity and more people visited, cougars were scared off. Without natural predators, mule deer over-browsed cottonwoods, causing a shift in vegetation, more erosion along stream banks, and ultimately fewer reptiles, amphibians, fish, and insects. These results, replicated in Yellowstone, have broad implications with regard to our understanding of ecosystems where large carnivores have been removed or are being recovered.

Click here to open a new window and visit the agency's website...

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Commonly abbreviated as: DWR

Greg Sheehan, Director

Main Office:
1594 W North Temple, Suite 2110
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-6301
801-538-4700
DWRcomment@utah.gov


Mammals Program Coordinator
Leslie McFarlane
1594 W North Temple
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-6301
lesliemcfarlane@utah.gov
801-538-4891

Please write to the director and express your concern for cougars in Utah.

Thank DWR when they take steps to protect our state's cougars. When they fall short of expectations, politely ask for policy reform and more officer training.
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