Similar to many of the other western states, habitat loss coupled with high hunting quotas puts mountain lion populations at risk. Most recently, mountain lions have been blamed for mule deer population declines, a position not borne out by science. In February 2016, mountain lions won a sizeable victory in the state when the Wyoming Game and Fish Department voted down a bill that would have allowed greater mountain lion hunting in an attempt to bolster mule deer numbers.
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 Wyoming, 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.
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 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 state's first lion hunting season just 36 years earlier.
Despite strong data and recommendations from their own biologists to lower hunting quotas, the state has continued to increase hunter harvest. A recently proposed bill would have created new opportunities for hunters to kill large numbers of mountain lions in the name of increasing mule deer numbers.
Public pressure successfully convinced Game and Fish to defeat the bill and lower hunting limits in one game management unit. With watchfulness and added pressure perhaps we can keep similar bills from being passed and persuade the state to set lower limits in the rest of the state.