Cougar Population Dynamics and Viability in the Pacific Northwest

Lambert et al. (2006)

Abstract: Increasing reports of human/cougar conflicts may suggest that cougars are increasing in the Pacific Northwest. We determined minimum relative densities and average fecundity, survival, and growth rate of an apparently increasing cougar population in northeastern Washington, USA; northern Idaho, USA; and southern British Columbia, Canada, from 1998 to 2003. Minimum relative densities declined from 1.47 cougars/ 100 km2 to 0.85 cougars/100 km2. We estimated average litter size at 2.53 kittens, interbirth interval at 18 months, proportion of reproductively successful females at 75%, and age at first parturition at 18 months for a maternity rate of 1.27 kittens/adult female/yr. Average survival rate for all radiocollared cougars was 59%: 77% for adult females, 33% for adult males, 34% for yearlings, and 57% for kittens. Hunting accounted for 92% of mortalities of radiocollared cougars. The annual stochastic growth rate of this population was k 1⁄4 0.80 (95% CI 1⁄4 0.11). Contrary to accepted belief, our findings suggest that cougars in the Pacific Northwest are currently declining. Increased conflicts between cougars and humans in this area could be the result of the 1) very young age structure of the population caused by heavy hunting, 2) increased human intrusion into cougar habitat, 3) low level of social acceptance of cougars in the area, or 4) habituation of cougars to humans. To help preserve this population, we recommend reduced levels of exploitation, particularly for adult females, continuous monitoring, and collaborative efforts of managers from adjacent states and provinces.

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