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Cougars in Canada

Canada, Cougar, Dispersing, Hunting, Range

Canada is the northernmost part of the cougars' range. Largely extirpated in central and eastern Canada in the past, the most stable populations now exist in Alberta and British Columbia (recent, but not scientifically based, estimates are 4,000-6,000 in BC, 800-1200 in Alberta), and occur more sporadically in other Canadian provinces and territories.

Canadian authorities have acknowledged the uncertainty of the existence of the Eastern cougar subspecies (there is taxonomic uncertainty as to whether there is a subspecies; the US Fish and Wildlife Service declared the Eastern cougar extinct in March 2011; and there is evidence that cougars from the western areas are moving eastward). Some scientists believe there are three subspecies in western Canada- the Vancouver Island cougar, Coastal cougar, and Rocky Mountains cougar.

Habitat loss and fragmentation due to human development, lethal predator control (part of a recovery plan for endangered mountain caribou and Vancouver Island marmots), and decline in prey species are the largest threats to the cougars in Canada. On Vancouver Island, because of the loss of old-growth forest and intact watersheds due to logging, the deer population has decreased significantly, and therefore the cougar population has as well. Yet on the Gulf Islands deer populations are lacking predators, leading to over-browsing and its negative impacts; when a cougar does appear it is quickly removed.

Cougars are a protected species under the Saskatchewan Wildlife Regulations, and therefore there is no hunting season on the cats. In a Saskatchewan Ministry of Environment survey, only 300 cougars were found to be in the province. (More population data is being gathered by the Ministry, which will lead to a new cougar management plan for the province.) Farmers and landowners have a right to kill a cougar in order to protect their livestock or property; the Ministry fully investigates all reports of cougars related to human or livestock safety.

Manitoba, Quebec, New Brunswick and Ontario list the cougar as a threatened species (and therefore they are not hunted), but also acknowledge their presence in these provinces. Many sightings of cougars have been reported in Nova Scotia, but their presence is not confirmed. Cougars are also protected from hunting in the Yukon Territory.

In the province of Alberta, cougars are managed as a hunted game animal (they are classified as “Secure” in the General Status of Alberta’s Wild Species). The hunt season is currently takes place over three winter months. There is a moratorium on “Pursuit Seasons” (viewing opportunities). The owner or occupant of privately owned land may kill, but not trap or hunt with dogs, a cougar at any time on those lands without a license and must register the kill with the Fish and Wildlife Division. There is no trapping season for cougars in Alberta, but the number of cougars accidentally killed by trappers has been increasing in recent years. The last published estimate of cougars- 685 cats in the province- was from a study done by Fish and Wildlife in the 1980’s.

Cougars are also hunted in British Columbia for three months each year with a bag limit of one. The Ministry of Environment lists the importance of the cougar “as a legitimate form of outdoor recreation for the hunter and non-hunter alike; and as a regulator of its major prey populations.” They also state that to maintain several predator species they design hunting seasons “ to allow room for man and the wild predators.” In a report published by the Raincoast Conservation Foundation, they list three gaps in the government’s ability to manage or conserve the species: the lack of scientific understanding of cougar ecology, the absence of population data, and the deficit of an ethical framework to inform decisions. BC currently lacks a cougar management plan.

Thanks to Raincoast Conservation Foundation and International Society for Endangered Cats for their work for cougars in Canada.