State by State
Cougars once roamed throughout most of the contiguous forty-eight United States. Yet efforts to exterminate cougars, wolves, and other predators that began with European colonization and continued as late as the 1960s resulted in the virtual elimination of cougars from the eastern two-thirds of the United States.
Today viable, breeding cougar populations are found in just the sixteen states of Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico, South Dakota, North Dakota, Texas, and Florida. In most of these states, cougars are the only species of native large carnivore that survived extermination programs.
Legal protections afforded to cougars vary widely. All western states with surviving cougar populations (except Texas) established limited protections for the cats by the early 1970s. Today cougars are classified as a game species and hunted for sport in the thirteen states of: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas, and North Dakota. In these states, authority for setting and carrying out hunting programs is held by each state’s wildlife management agency. Among the western states California has afforded the most protection to the species. In California, cougars are classified as a “specially protected mammal.” As a result of this classification, sport hunting was prohibited by a public referendum in 1990. In contrast, Texas classifies cougars as a “varmint” and permits their killing without restrictions or reporting requirements. Florida’s small population of cougars, known as Florida Panthers (Puma concolor coryii), is classified as an endangered species under federal and state law and is considered one of the most endangered mammals in the world. In all of the United States, cougars can be legally killed for threatening or attacking domestic livestock and pets, or for posing a threat to human safety.