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Mule deer, bighorns may benefit from cougar hunting changes

From Utah Division of Wildlife Resources

-- Mule deer and bighorn sheep in Utah are going to receive some added protection from cougars, following rules approved Aug. 18 by the Utah Wildlife Board.

The 2011-2012 cougar hunting season begins Nov. 16.

Utah has 49 cougar hunting units which have been placed within nine large cougar management areas. Adding the number of permits for each unit in an area gives a total objective for the entire area. Hunting continues on all of the units in the area until the total objective for the entire area is reached or the cougar hunting season ends.

An additional factor that could result in a hunt area closing early would be the number of female cougars taken.

Eight of the nine cougar management areas are centered around areas where radio collars were placed on female deer starting in 2009. The ninth area is actually three separate areas with large populations of bighorn sheep.

Bighorn sheep areas will be managed differently than the deer areas, and the board set a minimum number of cougars to be taken. Regardless of the number of female cougars taken, the hunt on the bighorn sheep areas will not end until the minimum number of cougars is taken or the season ends.

A deer study underway in Utah is giving biologists better information about the number of deer surviving in the study areas each year.

Wildlife Section Chief Kevin Bunnell said creating cougar management areas based on areas where deer have had radio collars placed on them is a more precise way to balance the number of cougars and the number of deer. "The study is giving us up-to-date information about the deer herds in these areas," he says.

Bunnell says predation by cougars is just one of several reasons why adult deer die, but itís probably not the major reason deer herds in many areas are struggling.

"But when adult deer survival is below average," he said, "that's an indication cougars might be one of the factors that are limiting the growth of the herd. In a situation like this, temporarily increasing the number of cougars that are taken can allow a deer population to expand."

Bunnell said cougars rarely prey on deer fawns. Instead, they focus mostly on adult deer.

All of the cougar hunting rules the board approved will be available in the 2011-2012 Utah Cougar Hunting Guidebook. The free guidebook should be available Sept. 6 online at wildlife.utah.gov/guidebooks.

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