Cougar Exploitation Levels in Utah: Implications for Demographic Structure,Population Recovery, and Metapopulation Dynamics• The Cougar Fund
Stoner et al. (2006)
Abstract: Currently, 11 western states and 2 Canadian provinces use sport hunting as the primary mechanism for managing cougar (Puma concolor) populations. Yet the impacts of sustained harvest on cougar population dynamics and demographic structure are not well understood. We evaluated the effects of hunting on cougar populations by comparing the dynamics and demographic composition of 2 populations exposed to different levels of harvest. We monitored the cougar populations on Monroe Mountain in south-central Utah, USA, and in the Oquirrh Mountains of north-central Utah from 1996 to 2004. Over this interval the Monroe population was subjected to annual removals ranging from 17.6–51.5% (mean 6 SE 1⁄4 35.4 6 4.3%) of the population, resulting in a .60% decline in cougar population density. Concurrently, the Oquirrh study area was closed to hunting and the population remained stationary. Mean age in the hunted population was lower than in the protected population (F 1⁄4 9.0; df 1⁄4 1, 60.3; P 1⁄4 0.004), and in a pooled sample of all study animals, females were older than males (F 1⁄4 13.8; df 1⁄4 1, 60.3; P , 0.001). Females from the hunted population were significantly younger than those from the protected population (3.7 vs. 5.9 yr), whereas male ages did not differ between sites (3.1 vs. 3.4 yr), suggesting that male spatial requirements may put a lower limit on the area necessary to protect a subpopulation. Survival tracked trends in density on both sites. Levels of human-caused mortality were significantly different between sites (v2 1⁄4 7.5; P 1⁄4 0.006). Fecundity rates were highly variable in the protected population but appeared to track density trends with a 1-year lag on the hunted site. Results indicate that harvest exceeding 40% of the population, sustained for...
• The Cougar Fund
Choate et al. (2006)
Abstract: Numerous techniques have been proposed to estimate or index cougar (Puma concolor) populations, but few have been applied simultaneously to populations with reliable estimates of population size. Between 1996 and 2003, we evaluated the relative efficacy and accuracy of multiple estimation and index techniques for populations at 2 locations in Utah, USA: Monroe Mountain and the Oquirrh Mountains. We used radiotagging followed by intensive monitoring and repeated capture efforts to approach a complete enumeration of the populations. We used these benchmarks to evaluate other population estimates (Lincoln–Petersen mark–recapture, helicopter-survey probability sampling, catch-per- unit-effort) and indices (scent-station visits, track counts, hunter harvest). Monitoring over 600 scent-station-nights using different attractants June–September in 1996 and 1997 yielded a single cougar visit. Summer track-based indices reflected a 54–69% reduction in population size on the Monroe site and a numerically stable population on the Oquirrhs, but relationships between indices and the benchmark population estimates varied among techniques. Aerial track surveys required sufficient fresh snowfall accumulations for adequate tracking coverage of a given unit, conditions that were met only once on one study site in each of 3 years. Population estimates derived from helicopter-survey probability sampling exceeded reference population estimates by 120–284%, and bootstrapped estimates of standard error encompassed 25– 55% of the population estimates (e.g., 5.6 6 1.4 cougars/100 km2). Despite poor performance in predicting cougar population sizes, track- based estimates may provide better indices for monitoring large changes in population trends (i.e., with low precision). However, we recommend using multiple indices after determination of a more rigorous initial population estimate for managing populations of conservation concern and when considering connectivity to determine potential refuge sites for regional management (e.g., management by zones).
This research funded in part through a grant from the Cougar Fund
• The Cougar Fund
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.