A bill being considered by the Wyoming Legislature would legalize trapping and snaring mountain lions, a species that’s now hunted mostly by using dogs.

Sponsored by Rep. Jim Allen, R-Lander, House Bill 12 would direct the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission to set rules and regulations specifying which types of traps and snares could be used for taking the large carnivores. Were it to pass, the legislation would add Wyoming to a short list of states that permit trapping lions. It also is allowed in Texas and on private lands in New Mexico.

Allen, who co-sponsored the bill with fellow House and Senate Republicans Hans Hunt, Eli Bebout and Larry Hicks, said his aim is to give Game and Fish more options to reduce the lion population.

“This is really a biological issue,” Allen said. “It’s just a strict arms-length wildlife-management tool. I don’t hate mountain lions, I think they’re really neat.”

In Allen’s corner of Wyoming and elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains, he claims that lion populations have swelled and created a “predator pit” that’s taken a toll on mule deer and bighorn sheep.

In the Jackson Hole area, by contrast, research by Panthera’s Teton Cougar Project has found that lion numbers are in a steady long-term decline.

HB 12, Allen said, would grant Game and Fish authority to dictate when and how mountain lions could be trapped.

“It just legalizes it,” he said. “It’s really up to them to write the rules.”

Currently Game and Fish prohibits killing female lions that are with kittens or young still showing spots. Traps capture animals indiscriminate of sex or age.

“We haven’t done a full analysis of this bill,” said Dan Thompson, Game and Fish’s large carnivore supervisor, “but there would be a lot of different regulatory mechanisms that would be difficult to have control over. There could be some potential for some issues if [trapping] was used for larger carnivores.”

Allen said he has heard from “a lot” of people in support of the bill, including a Wyoming resident whose children were recently stalked by a cat.

“When you have lions that are that brazen, then you have too many lions,” he said. “We’re trying to help the mule deer, but we’re also concerned for human safety.”

There have been no human deaths by lions recorded in Wyoming history.

Jackson Hole advocacy groups that caught wind of the lion trapping bill have already lined up in opposition.

“It’s certainly not scientifically supported,” said Penny Maldonado, executive director of the Cougar Fund. “As far as I understand, the legislators want to get closer to the harvest mortality limits set by Game and Fish. That would indicate that those limits are targets, and I definitely would contend that they’re not. That’s why the word ‘quota’ has been eliminated.”

Lisa Robertson, who founded the Jackson Hole group Wyoming Untrapped, said the legislation would be a “real step back for Wyoming.” The type of heavy-duty equipment that would be used to trap lions could have impacts on other species caught accidentally, she said.

“A skilled person could probably target lions pretty well and do a decent job, but you don’t have a lot of skilled trappers out there,” Robertson said. “At any one point, 50 percent of trappers are newbies.

“All of the animals are going to take the brunt of something like this,” she said. “It’s going to be ugly.”

Allen, also a rancher and hunting outfitter, did not share the concern.

“It’s a pretty sophisticated technology, and the trappers are good at it,” he said. “They’re pretty darn efficient.”

To be made into law, HB 12 must first pass a two-thirds introductory vote. The Wyoming legislative session this budget year begins Feb. 8.

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(4) comments

The Cougar Fund

The Cougar Fund strongly opposes HB0012 for the following reasons

• Traps and Snares are indiscriminate. Cougars and other carnivores that are caught in traps or snares may chew off a limb in an effort to escape.

• Mountain lions, including kittens, or mothers with dependent young, are often disabled by being caught in a trap or snare, even if released. The loss of a tooth or toe means they will be unable to hunt and survive. Many cougars that have been killed or found dead of debilitation or malnutrition have physical evidence of having been trapped.

• The indiscriminate nature of trapping means that more females, including mothers and kittens, will be killed since their home range is smaller and they do not travel great distances like their male counterparts. Mothers with dependent young are especially vulnerable as they repeatedly hunt and return to their kittens, leaving tracks to show their path.

• Traps and snares are baited with wild animal scents…this is an attractant to all animals including endangered species such as lynx, threatened species such as grizzly bears, and species of special concern such as wolverines. Ungulates, including mule deer and bighorn sheep have been recorded as incidental take in traps.

• The Wyoming Game and Fish Department never allow the public to trap and snare large game or trophy game animals.

• The Wyoming game and Fish Department already has effective and proven management tools in place for responding to specific lions that may have the potential to affect public safety.

• Other states such as Montana, Idaho, Minnesota and Maine have been litigated against successfully in cases concerning incidental take of protected animals.

• The traps could prove dangerous to recreationalists, whether hunters or non-hunters, especially if they are accompanied by children, sporting hounds, or companion animals. Dogs are just as attracted to the scenting as wild animals and will be drawn to the traps to investigate.

• Inadvertently encountering a large animal already in a trap is a serious public safety issue. If young animals are trapped or snared, their mother will almost certainly be in the area.

• The Bill has been introduced as a method to increase mule deer numbers. Current best science has repeatedly shown that any improvement in mule deer numbers from extraordinary pressure on cougars is extremely ineffective and unsustainable. Mule deer are threatened by disease and environmental factors such as habitat loss and fragmentation. Reduction in forage quality plays an especially important role in mule deer physical condition, reproductive health and fawn survival.

• Between 2009 and 2015, 11 mountain lions were unintentionally caught in furbearer traps. During that same period 24 deer (23 mule, 1 white tail) were also caught. Mountain lions and deer occupy the same habitat. Larger traps for dedicated mountain lion mortality will most definitely kill the deer the initiative is mistakenly intending to save.

• WGFD has invested significant financial resources and dedicated time, energy, research and citizen participation in the Wyoming Mule Deer Initiative. They are starting to see some turnaround in survival and indicators of recovery with the current focused management. Trapping and snaring of cougars is not part of the plan.

• We NEED cougars and other large carnivores on the landscape – they are positive contributors to biodiversity.

• Trapping and snaring directly contradicts Wyoming’s Mountain Lion Management Plan, which encourages selectivity and forbids killing of mothers with kittens or spotted independent cougars. HB0012 is at odds with this requirement.

• HB0012 says the Wyoming Game and Fish SHALL promulgate regulations for this legislation. That wording is inconsistent with the responsibility for management decisions being with WGFD and indicates inappropriate political influence by the Legislature.
Please feel free to use these points if you want to help defeat HB0012.

Gary Humbard

It's time to advance past the 19th century and ban trapping altogether. The senator brings up safety; well senator there has not been one Wyoming resident killed by a cougar in the states history. If a specific cougar is found stalking a human then that cougar needs to be killed, not indiscriminate trapping so let's try another need. Strike one.

Increase mule deer population. The following was taken directly from WF&G mule deer fact sheet: "In most cases, reducing the number of predators to increase mule deer populations is inefficient and cost prohibitive. Therefore, predator control should only be instituted when circumstances indicate a high likelihood of management success, and where specific and measurable objectives can be applied and carefully monitored". Habitat is the driving force behind carrying capacity so let's work on improving and protecting what is there. Strike two senator.

Cougars kill other cougars to protect their young or their home range, that's how nature works if we let it. Let WF&G do their job and senator you do yours by making sure the public's money is well spent on things like education, infrastructure, real safety issues, and the economy among others.

Shane Rothman

Mountain Lions are cool, these politicians are not... Trapping is even worse than releasing a pack of hounds to go find one to shoot out of a tree... If hunting lions is really a "sport", then they ought to ban cheating.

leslie smith

I wonder how Wyoming residents will feel if there children or pets end up in the traps or snares. Lions need to managed and predator management is becoming increasing difficuls as wolves and grizzlies expand into our neighborhoods.
I also don't want one of my dogs hitting a trap or snare when working or recreating in the mountains.
How about we up the bounty to encourage more hunting with dogs? Especially with the mining downturn.

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