By WHITNEY ROYSTER
Star-Tribune environmental reporter
JACKSON -- The Wyoming Game and Fish Department's plan to increase mountain lion hunting quotas in part of western Wyoming is drawing both praise and criticism.
The agency is proposing to boost cougar quotas in hunt areas 3, 14, 17 and 26. Those are all south of Jackson and north and east of Green River.
Mountain lion hunting is driven by mountain lion mortality quotas: When the annual quota is met for a hunt area, the hunting season is closed for the year.
Tom Mangelsen, co-founder of The Cougar Fund, said researchers from the Teton Cougar Project documented bubonic plague in cougars in the Jackson area, and said data indicate that population is struggling. There are no proposed changes to that hunt area, but Mangelsen said if that population is not doing well, it would suggest Game and Fish should decrease hunting quotas there.
"It would be smart of Game and Fish and for the state to back off a bit" when researchers are saying the area may be struggling, Mangelsen said during a public meeting here Monday night.
"If you don't pay attention to this data, I have concern for the other 29 areas with less data," Mangelsen said.
Outfitter Maury Jones disagreed, saying that most of hunt area 2 is protected as national park or wilderness area, and he'd like to see the hunting quotas increased in that area because only 30 percent of the land is available to hunters.
Jones and Dan Winder both said they were concerned for big game species, which are getting hit from a variety of predators including mountain lions.
"I'd rather see 50 deer than one mountain lion," Winder said.
Jones said Game and Fish should be concerned because the agency gets its revenue from hunter dollars, and if predators are taking prey, that means less money for Game and Fish. Jones said predator advocates should help pay for wildlife management.
Game and Fish is holding public meetings around the state this week to gather public input on its proposed mountain lion hunting changes. Public comment closes June 14.
At the Jackson meeting, Game and Fish officials also were peppered with questions about the department's new policy to include all human-caused cougar deaths in hunting quotas.
Dave Moody, trophy game coordinator for Game and Fish, was asked whether a mountain lion quota would be filled if a mother lion was killed and three kittens were sent to a zoo. He suggested those kittens would count against a quota in a given hunt area.
Moody said if a mother was killed and the kittens starved, that also would count against the quota. And if a hunt area's quota of mountain lions was killed on roadways or by agency personnel due to conflicts with humans during spring and summer months, the following year's hunting season would be closed.
Environmental reporter Whitney Royster can be reached at (307) 734-0260 or at email@example.com.