Just under half of Wyoming is considered potential mountain lion habitat. Potential available habitat is patchily distributed throught the state, with larger areas in Yellowstone and Teton National Parks in the northwest corner.
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.
The state of Wyoming encompasses 93,136 square miles of land. Of this, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) estimates that approximately 44,379 square miles, or 48 percent of the state is probable mountain lion habitat. This habitat is distributed sparsely throughout most of Wyoming with concentrations in the northwest around Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, in the Bighorn Mountains in the north central portion, the mountains outside of Cheyenne and Laramie in the southeast, and the Black Hills, located in the upper Northeast corner of the state.
The Black Hills area is of particular interest because it has been apparent for some time now that the region's lion population is a primary source for the recolonization of the species throughout the entire Midwest and possibly the eastern seaboard. This mountainous region (approximately 5,000 square miles in size) straddles the state lines of Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska with approximately 10 percent of the Black Hills located within Wyoming's borders.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department tries to avoid public scrutiny of their mountain lion management decisions by refusing to publicly estimate how many lions live in the state. Instead WGFD bases its claim of a healthy, expanding lion population on public opinion.
Recent studies in other western states using the most up to date research methods place the average density level of a healthy lion population at 1.7 mountain lions per 100 square kilometers. Based on that figure, MLF estimates Wyoming could have as many as 2,000 adult lions. Unfortunately the public will never know for sure until the WGFD presents official numbers of its own, backed by credible, peer reviewed, evidence.
For ninety-one years, between 1882 and 1973, an unknown number of mountain lions were killed as a result of a bounty placed upon the animals by the Wyoming Territorial Government. In 1974 (the first year records are available, and the first year lions were classified as a game animal) eight (8) mountain lions were reported killed. Since 1974, humans have killed at least 4,372 lions in Wyoming. During the state's 2011 mountain lion hunting season (September 1st - March 31st) an estimated 286 lions were killed — quite a difference from the results of the state's first lion hunting season just 36 years earlier.
A few years back, MLF researchers looked at human-caused mountain lion mortalities in Wyoming between the years 1992 to 2001. During that 10-year study period, human-caused mountain lion mortalities steadily increased from 73 reported in 1992 to 220 in 2001. This represents a 201 percent increase with an annual average of 147 reported mountain lion deaths. Sport hunting accounted for 97 percent of all reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities, with the remaining mortalities the result of depredation kills. These figures do not include lions killed by poachers, road-killed, or poisoned, nor do they take into account orphaned kittens that die as a result of adult females being killed.
Concentrations of human-caused mountain lion mortalities were highest during the study period in the Bighorn Mountains, in the vicinity of Jackson Hole, and the mountains between Caspar and Cheyenne. Using the study's mortality ranking system, the top five Hunt Areas (HAs) for mountain lion mortalities were numbers 15, 6, 23, 21, and 26. From 1997 to 2001, these HAs were responsible for 36 percent of all human-caused mountain lion mortalities in Wyoming while encompassing only 13 percent of the state's identified mountain lion habitat.
Based on MLF's mortality density model, Wyoming (During the study period) averaged 0.33 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. As of the year 2011, Wyoming's lion mortality average has almost doubled to 0.64 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. This is an alarming trend especially in light of the fact that nobody knows for sure exactly how many lions still reside within the state.
As mentioned above, the Black Hills are of particular interest because of their unique situation of encompassing parts of three states, and because scientists have traced several transient mountain lions found as far away as Connecticut as originating from that region.
Unfortunately, actions currently underway by the governing state game agencies (Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska) have reduced this natural process to a mere trickle of individual animals. At this time there appears to be a concentrated effort by pro-lion hunting factions in Wyoming, South Dakota, and Nebraska to increase the number of lions killed within their jurisdictions of the Black Hills region, regardless of the effects on the species as a whole.
Wyoming's ever-increasing annual lion hunting season now threatens even those few.All Wyoming citizens who believe their state's lion population is being exploited and threatened with extirpation can voice their opinion by attending one of the scheduled public hearings on the annual hunting quotas, sending in written comments to the regulators via their formal process, and also by contacting your local legislators (Senator and Representative).