Wyoming's Grand Tetons south of Yellowstone near Jackson Hole.
  Photo Courtesy of Trey Ratcliff / Stuck in Customs


Despite being listed for 38 years as a game mammal, and decades of publicly funded research, the State of Wyoming refuses to openly announce a population estimate on the number of lions existing within its borders.

Some have opined that this policy stance is an effort to avoid having to justify an ever increasing hunting quota, and wildlife management decisions which enrich a few ranchers at the expense of the species.

SUMMARY: Mountain Lions in the State of Wyoming

Wyoming Mountain Lion Habitat and Population Estimate

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.

Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Wyoming

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.

Map showing cougar habitat in large areas in the north and west of the state.

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.

Wyoming's Black Hills

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 proposed changes for the 2012 lion hunting season now threatens even those few.

All Wyoming citizens who believe that 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 this issue, and sending in written comments to the regulators via their formal process.

Review the Proposed Regulations to Increase the Hunt in 2012

The draft proposed regulations are available for review on the WGFD website.

Printed copies of the draft regulation (Chapter 42) are also available (according to WGFD) at the following address:

Wyoming Game and Fish Department
3030 Energy Lane
Casper, WY 82604

Send in your Written Comments on the Regulations by June 12, 2012

Comments written and mailed by Wyoming residents can really make a difference. Written comments on the proposals will also be accepted through 5 p.m. June 12, 2012. If you reside or own property in Wyoming, please write your comments and mail them via postal mail to:

Wyoming Game and Fish Department
Comments on Regulations CHAPTER 42, Mtn. Lion Seasons
3030 Energy Lane
Casper, WY 82604

Please also send a copy of your comments to the Mountain Lion Foundation.

Mountain Lion Foundation
P.O. Box 1896
Sacramento, CA 95812

Last Update: May 31, 2012

Photograph of Devil's Towerin Wyoming, Black Hills in the background, ranch pasture in foreground.  Text:  Dollars for Ranchers, Death to Lions.  Another Black Hills tragedy:  Wyoming wants to kill cougars to enrich a chosen few.  Please speak out for the lions.



The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) is pursuing plans that will effectively eradicate lions in their portion of the Black Hills to enrich a few greedy ranchers. These plans will carve out a major portion of two already over-harvested hunting zones to create a special, no-limit Hunt Area (#32) so that local ranchers can carry on lucrative mountain lion hunts long after the region's lion harvest quota has been reached on public lands.

ON AIR: Clay Nielsen on Mapping Dispersal

06/09/11 An Audio Interview with Craig Fergus, MLF Volunteer

In this edition of our audio podcast ON AIR, volunteer Craig Fergus interviews wildlife biologist Clayton Nielsen about his work mapping dispersal corridors for mountain lions into the Midwest, and analyzing areas of good habitat in anticipation of potential breeding populations in the region.


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