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. Hunting quotas and cougar mortality have continued to rise, despite opposition from the public.
Like most western states, cougars in Utah were first managed through a bounty process, then left unclassified for a few years, followed by the species listing by UDWR as a game animal and sport hunted for recreation. (For more about the history of cougars in Utah, visit our Utah History page.)
All of these management practices contain a single common element: killing cougars to benefit a small group of men. Though management plans claim to be focused on preserving healthy populations, sport hunting opportunities have always been the priority.
During the bounty period, most people were concerned only about how quickly the species could be eradicated. The few who were directly involved were motivated by how much money they could make by turning in a kill. The underlying intentions of today's decision-makers are much less clear.
Utah's latest Cougar Management Plan's primary intentions are to manage cougars solely through sport hunting to provide recreation, enhance mule deer populations, and reduce complaints from livestock owners.
UDWR's statewide population estimates have ranged from 2,500 to 4,000 cougars. But density estimates from leading cougar researchers indicate a population of roughly 1,600 cougars is likely more realistic. Without a trusted population estimate, it is unclear how much longer Utah's cougars can withstand the current level of persecution.
September 1, 2016 coverage by CBS' Salt Lake City affiliate, KUTV.