In January a bill was introduced in the Wyoming Legislature that, if it had passed, would have allowed any person with a valid hunting license to kill a mountain lion using a trap or snare. As a Wyoming resident and biologist, I'm thrilled to tell you that our Legislature voted yesterday in favor of science and to protect the balance of nature on which our state so deeply depends.
HB12 failed to pass the House on Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016, at 2:23 p.m. This bill was not based on valid research, and the potential negative consequences for mountain lions, other wildlife, Wyoming citizens and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department would have been far-reaching.
Ostensibly, this bill was introduced to provide "additional tools" to reverse recent mule deer population declines, a valuable game species for Wyoming residents. In reality, the connection between mountain lions and mule deer population declines is tenuous at best. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department has said that mule deer declines are largely the result of other factors, including habitat loss and disruption to migration corridors.
It is also well accepted among wildlife biologists that deer dynamics are driven primarily by weather patterns and resulting forage availability, not predators. In fact, a recent intensive, long-term study from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game emphasized that removing mountain lions and coyotes did not provide any long-term benefit to deer populations. The researchers reported: "In conclusion, benefits of predator removal appear to be marginal and short term in southeastern Idaho and likely will not appreciably change long-term dynamics of mule deer populations in the intermountain west."
Like mule deer, mountain lions are also experiencing significant population declines in some areas. Research conducted by Panthera's Teton Cougar Project in Teton County, Wyoming, shows that lion numbers north of Jackson have declined by half in eight years. Mountain lions in Wyoming are hunted with all legal firearms, archery equipment and trailing hounds, and these methods have proven effective in reducing mountain lion populations across the West. Introducing trapping — an imprecise method of hunting — could have crippled mountain lion populations further, as well as rapidly and unexpectedly influenced other wildlife populations.
The nature of trapping is indiscriminate. Trapping consists of snares and leghold traps, including steel jaws, which often cause serious injury to animals — breaking legs, ripping skin or completely severing limbs, via the trap or through self-mutilation. Traps deliver painful, slow deaths to wildlife and domestic animals unlucky enough to be caught. In Wyoming it is currently illegal to kill a female mountain lion with kittens or the kittens themselves. However, a trapper cannot dictate what animal is caught, resulting in the potential maiming or killing of female mountain lions, their kittens or federally listed wolves, wolverines, Canada lynx or grizzly bears. Traps may also injure people should they stumble into one.
Importantly, voting down HB12 maintained protection for the reproductive capital of our mountain lion populations: female mountain lions with kittens and the kittens themselves.
Trapping is not only imprecise in its implementation, it is also nearly impossible to track and monitor. This bill would have completely undermined mountain lion management currently conducted by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, introducing chaos to a tracking system that may not be ideal but works. When Wyoming's House and Senate representatives introduce legislation that threatens their own Wyoming Game and Fish Department's ability to protect our state's immense and singular biodiversity, something is clearly wrong.
But Rep. Sam Krone eloquently opposed the bill for sportsmen against indiscriminate trapping, followed by Rep. Charles Pelkey, who emphasized the potential consequences of increased trapping on domestic animals and people. In the end the bill did not gain the required two-thirds majority to move forward.
Every year visitors flock to Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, investing millions of dollars in Wyoming communities in the hope of glimpsing charismatic apex predators like the mountain lion. In voting down HB12, Wyoming voted for sustainable, scientific decision-making for our state and every creature with which we share this precarious and wonderful balance that we call home. In voting against mountain lion trapping, Wyoming chose evidence-based science over old mythology perpetuating fear and persecution of this amazing animal. It made me proud to live in Wyoming.
Yet the possibility remains that this bill will be reintroduced to the Senate this week. To ensure Wyoming's mountain lion trapping legislation stops in its tracks, continue to contact members of the Wyoming legislature this week.
If the bill is halted, New Mexico and Texas will be the only states in our country to allow the trapping of mountain lions.