Cox signs a wildlife law allowing year-round cougar hunting and trapping

HB469 is also directing millions to purchase land to be preserved for habitat and hunting access

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) A female mountain lion after being captured by scientists in the Oquirrh Mountains in 2011.

Gov. Spencer Cox on Friday signed a sweeping wildlife law that includes controversial provisions opening a year-round, quota-free hunting season for cougars in Utah and allowing the use of traps to kill the stealthy predator.

The cougar regulations were never part of HB469 sponsored by Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, but were added on the 43rd day of the legislature with no discussion or explanation other than the claim that the number of cougars increased despite significant increases in deaths from Pumas has been increasing in recent years.

The amended bill has been criticized by both hunting and wildlife groups, who see it as a rejection of science and sound wildlife management to appease narrow-minded political interests. The law makes Utah an outlier among western states when it comes to cougar hunting.

“I wish Governor Cox would understand that killing more mountain lions will lead to more cougar problems, not fewer,” said R. Brent Lyles, executive director of the Mountain Lion Foundation. “HB469 is bad for ranchers and bad for public safety. And that’s bad for Utah’s wild lands and natural resources, too.”

Other provisions

Cox had many other things to consider when deciding to sign the law.

More importantly, from Snider’s perspective, his bill includes $1 million a year in acquiring land to conserve for wildlife habitat and hunter access under the direction of the Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). It is creating the Wildlife Land and Water Acquisition Program, which will use federal grants to purchase land.

“For every dollar that the state pays in, three federal dollars are offset,” Snider told colleagues while explaining the bill to committee. The federal money comes from the Pittman-Robertson tax levied on ammunition.

He assured the legislature that safeguards are already in place to ensure DWR obtains approval from county leaders and legislators before any land purchase is made. It is also not allowed to pay above the market value.

The land acquisition aspect of the bill has met with strong opposition from several conservative Republicans who do not want to see a net loss of private land in Utah, particularly land that supports agriculture.

“Why do we need to buy more land with wildlife taxpayers’ money when 75% of Utah is already public lands,” Beaver County Commissioner Brandon Yardley told lawmakers. “The land purchase is most likely pasture land. We should protect this land, not buy it and take it away.”

Snider replied that his law protects agricultural land.

“The worst thing you can ever do if you want farming or grazing is create an opportunity for the last crop planted to be homes,” Snider said. “The packages we [acquire] This program allows grazing to continue.”

The bill also bans the use of trail cameras on public lands from July 31 to December 31, a time slot timed to coincide with hunting season. The purpose is to discourage hunters from using the motion-triggered cameras to take down big game, a practice considered by many to be a scam.

However, there are many Utahs who use this gear to enjoy wildlife without killing them. The new law would make it illegal for people to use trail cameras on public lands after July 31, with exceptions related to education, research and safety.

HB469 also establishes rules for the use of airguns when hunting and requires that convictions of wildlife violations by guides and outfitters be reported to the Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, which could then challenge their licenses.

Other parts of the bill regulate the hunting season on private land participating in the state’s Cooperative Wildlife Management Unit (CWMU) program.

But it was the 11-hour cougar hunting provision added by Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, in the Senate that the bill will remember. Beginning May 3, under the new law, any licensed hunter can shoot or catch cougars any day of the year, subject to Utah Wildlife Board regulations, disrupting a longstanding DWR program that sets catch quotas tailored to specific units. Cox signs a wildlife law allowing year-round cougar hunting and trapping

Justin Scacco

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