Utah's Bryce Canyon at sunrise/set over rocky cliffs.
Photo of lion lounging on rocky ledge.


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

There has been quite a lot of mountain lion research in Utah over the years. Some of this research has been conducted by the APHIS National Wildlife Research Center, Utah State University, a project within USU known as the Monroe-Oquirrh Cougar Project, or as a collaboration between some of these groups.

Much of the research has focused on three main topics, 1) predation effects on big game species, 2) population estimation techniques, and 3) the influence of hunting on mountain lion demographics.

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Utah Cougar Science

Scientific Research

    The earliest research on mountain lions in Utah was conducted in the 1940s by houndsman and district Predatory Animal and Rodent Control agent, Edward Connolly. This research used snow tracking to evaluate predation rates and prey selection in the Wasatch Mountains. The next research was conducted by W. L. Robinette in the 1950s. This work used hunter-killed mountain lions and lions killed following depredation events to provide data for a series of research questions, including looking at prey selection, pregnancy rates, litter size, seasonal breeding patterns, and other causes of mortality. In the 70s, Robinette et al. (1977) published their study entitled The Oak Creek Mule Deer Herd in Utah, which summarized their research findings about how mountain lions influence mule deer dynamics.

    As technology improved, and radio tracking collars gained popularity, researchers in the state were able to ask new questions. Adding further depth to the research being conducted, mountain lion classification within the state shifted to being classified as big game species. Work published by Lindzey et al. (1989) was the first project in the state to use tracking collars to look at home range sizes and movement. This work was conducted on the Boulder Plateau and adjacent Henry Mountains in southern Utah from 1978 to 1989. Research conducted by Lindzey and colleagues focused on many applied facets of mountain lion biology, including predation impacts on deer, elk, and livestock; population dynamics; survey techniques; and the impact of hunting on mountain lion demographics.

    The next round of research in the state was conducted by Dr. Michael Wolfe at Utah State University, and Clint Mecham. This work took place on the Fishlake National Forest in central Utah, and near the Salt Lake metro area in the Oquirrh Mountains. These two sites were chosen so that researchers could compare the effect land use would have on mountain lion ecology; the Fishlake National Forest is public land and open to hunting, while the Oquirrh Mountain site is a mosaic of private properties with restricted hunting access.

    This study ran from 1996 to 2013 and had three main research objectives:

      1) evaluating mountain lion survey methods
      2) measuring the impact of hunting on mountain lion demographics
      3) quantifying the impact of human development on mountain lion movement and resource use

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.