Cougars were persecuted as vermin in Utah from the time of European settlement in 1847 until 1966. In 1967 the Utah State Legislature changed the status of cougars to that of protected wildlife, and since that time they have been considered a game species with established hunting regulations.
Cougars continue to be heavily persecuted in Utah by ever-increasing sport hunting quotas, intolerance by ranchers, and habitat loss. Cougars are also falsely blamed for declines in mule deer.
Genetic research indicates that the common ancestor of today's Leopardus, Lynx, Puma, Prionailurus, and Felis lineages migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas approximately 8 to 8.5 million years ago.
What we know as a cougar today became recognizable as a distinct species about 400,000 years ago, and inhabited nearly all of the Americas for hundreds of thousands of years, alongside the giant sloth, the mammoth, the dire wolf and the sabre-toothed lion.
During the Pleistocene ice ages, conditions appear to have become too cold for cougar populations to survive, and paleotologists believe that at the end of the last ice age, the big cats repopulated North America from a southern refugium. Cougars have inhabited Utah, alongside humans, for more than 40,000 years.
Native people memorialized the cougar in rock carvings, totems, in story and in song. As European settlement expanded in the 1840's, cougar persecution and riding the landscape of dangerous wildlife became more common.
In 1888 the Utah Territorial Legislature classified the cougar as an "obnoxious animal" and established a bounty. The program paid a reward for each cougar killed during the next 71 years. Utah ended its cougar bounty program in 1959. Partial records exist for 1913-1959, revealing at least 3,784 cougars will killed and turned in for a bounty payment during this time period.
In 1967, Utah reclassified the cougar as a "game animal." Since then annual sport hunting quotas and mortality have continued to rise.