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.