About 400 cougars will probably be taken in Utah after the Utah Wildlife Board approved rules for the state's 2002 - 2003 cougar hunting season at an Aug. 13 meeting in Salt Lake City.
If 400 cougars are taken, that number would be similar to the 393 cougars taken this past season.
The board approved a statewide total of 362 limited entry permits, an increase of 104 permits from the 258 offered last season, on the state's 27 limited entry units. Over the past five seasons, 54 percent of the hunters who drew a limited permit were successful in taking a cougar.
The board also set an objective of taking a statewide total of 307 cougars on 31 harvest objective areas, a decrease of 32 cougars from the objective of 339 set last season. Over the past five seasons, 76 percent of the statewide objective has been met.
The projection that 400 cougars will be taken during the 2002 - 2003 season is based on the average number of cougars taken over the past five seasons and assumes that hunting conditions in 2002 - 2003 will be similar to those experienced during those seasons.
"The number of cougars that we're projecting will be taken during for the 2002 - 2003 season should be very similar to the 393 cougars taken during the 2001 - 2002 season," said Craig McLaughlin, mammals coordinator for the Division of Wildlife Resources. "Weather conditions, particularly the availability of good snow cover for tracking cougars with hounds during the winter months, will influence the final number of cougars that are taken, however."
Utah's 2002 - 2003 cougar season will run Dec. 14, 2002 - June 2, 2003 through most of the state.
One of the most significant changes this season is in the Mount Nebo area of central Utah, where a reintroduction of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep is scheduled this winter. To help the herd establish itself, the DWR recommended to the board that the number of cougars that might prey on it be lowered.
Last season, a total of 24 limited entry permits were offered for the area. The Wildlife Board approved the DWR's recommendation to split the area into two subunits this season, with 18 limited entry permits offered for the eastern half and a harvest objective of 20 cougars set for the western half.
"The overriding goal of our cougar management plan is to maintain a healthy cougar population," McLaughlin said. "In addition, we consider human safety, economic concerns and other wildlife species.
"Predation by cougars can suppress the growth of depressed deer herds or newly introduced populations of bighorn sheep," he continued. "In those cases, we'll ask the board to increase the number of cougars taken in a specific area to help those big game populations grow. That's what we recommended for the western portion of the Mount Nebo area for this season.
"Other than that area, there shouldn't be any significant increases or decreases in the number of cougars taken this season."
The board also approved a three-year waiting period for those who draw a limited entry cougar permit and a bonus point system for cougars similar to the system currently in place for big game. "Many people have waited a long time to draw a limited entry cougar permit," McLaughlin said. "These changes recommended by Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife should increase the chances these hunters have of drawing a permit."
Applications for limited entry cougars permits will be available by Oct. 1 from hunting and fishing license agents, DWR offices and the DWR's Internet Web site (www.wildlife.utah.gov). Applications must be received no later than 5 p.m. on Oct. 16 to be included in the draw for permits. Draw results will be posted by Nov. 20.
Harvest objective permits will go on sale, over-the-counter at DWR offices only, beginning Nov. 26.
For more information call the nearest Division of Wildlife Resources office, or the Division's Salt Lake City office at (801) 538-4700.