Thursday, July 26, 2007

Texas: Move to re-classify mountain lions as game animals

09:38 PM CDT on Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Orie Gilad would like to elevate the status of Texas mountain lions from varmints to game animals. Gilad is director of the Research and Conservation Program for Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Inc. of Kendalia, Texas.

The organization has announced plans to present the Texas Legislature with a Texas Mountain Lion Initiative. The initiative upshot is that the lions' non-game status amounts to no status. A change to game status under a responsible, adaptive wildlife management plan would be good for the state's biggest mammalian predator, according to WRRI.

I have to agree with Gilad that mountain lions are terrific animals and, as former Texas Parks and Wildlife executive director Andy Sansom once said, we shouldn't be killing them like cockroaches.

There's just one problem with helping mountain lions. They're doing fine without our help. Despite the fact that I've never even seen a mountain lion in the wild, I have too much respect for these wonderful animals to entrust their fate to the Texas Legislature.

San Antonio, for instance, closed three city parks earlier this month after a series of mountain lion sightings near I-10 on the city's northwest side. TP&W investigators found no physical evidence of a big cat's presence but that doesn't mean much. A month earlier, a car flattened a 3-year-old female mountain lion on a San Antonio I-10 service road about two miles from the new Bass Pro store.

John Young is a TP&W biologist who tracks mountain lions, mostly via the telephone or the Internet. Though lion sightings have been reported in every Texas county, most reported sightings are not particularly believable.

Young does the best he can to document mountain lion mortalities, however. TP&W has been tracking those numbers since 1983. Though the highest annual mortality number is 88 since that time, lion mortality averages about 30 certifiable deaths a year.

Most of those mountain lion deaths are the result of being hit by an automobile, caught in a trap or whacked by a bullet. There are still government trappers who respond to complaints by ranchers and attempt to catch or kill problem lions. The number of lions killed by trappers has been documented since 1919.

Deer hunters pick off an occasional big cat, including those who learn deer hunting is good near a corn feeder. There are a handful of guys in West Texas who maintain hound packs and actively hunt mountain lions, often following behind the chase on horses or mules.

Most Texas lions sightings occur in West or South Texas, but mountain lions are travelers by nature. That's how they wind up in places like Jack County, a short drive northwest of Fort Worth; Wood County, about 100 miles east of Dallas; and Bosque County, 90 miles southwest of the city.

A lion tagged in South Dakota wound up in Oklahoma. A Utah lion fitted with a GPS tracking device wandered into Idaho, then back through Utah and into Colorado. The female lion covered 950 miles. Males tend to move longer distances.

TP&W officials do not attempt to count mountain lions, which are very secretive animals. Texas A&M did perform a DNA analysis on samples taken from 89 lions in West and South Texas and fed the results to a computer, which estimated 5,600 breeding animals were involved in that DNA sample. Young suspects that number could be on the conservative side.

Oregon, which does protect mountain lions as game animals, estimates its population at more than 5,000. British Columbia, which has experienced more lion attacks on humans than any other place, estimates its big cat population at 4,000 to 6,000.

In short, mountain lions are about as abundant in Texas as anywhere. Young said Texas mountain lions may be at an all-time population high. They're doing fine in spite of humans. They don't need to hear those dreaded words – "We're from the government and we're here to help you." outdoors/stories/072607dnsposasser.26cf417.html

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