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Research to regulation: Cougar social behavior as a guide for management

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Cougar (Puma concolor) populations are a challenge to estimate because of low densities and the difficulty marking and monitoring individuals. As a result, their management is often based on imperfect data. Current strategies rely on a source–sink concept, which tends to result in spatially clumped harvest within management zones that are typically approximately 10,000 km2.

Agencies often implement quotas within these zones and designate management objectives to reduce or maintain cougar populations. We propose an approach for cougar management founded on their behavior and social organization, designed to maintain an older age structure that should promote population stability.

To achieve these objectives,

  • hunter harvest would be administered within zones approximately 1,000 km2 in size to distribute harvest more evenly across the landscape.

  • replace the term “quota” with “harvest threshold” because quotas often connote a harvest target or goal rather than a threshold not to exceed.

  • In Washington, USA, where the source–sink concept is implemented, research shows that high harvest rates may not accomplish the intended population reduction objectives due to immigration, resulting in an altered population age structure and social organization. We recommend a harvest strategy based on a population growth rate of 14% and a resident adult density of 1.7 cougars/100 km2 that represent probable average values for western populations of cougars. Our proposal offers managers an opportunity to preserve behavioral and demographic attributes of cougar populations, provide recreational harvest, and accomplish a variety of management objectives.

We believe this science-based approach to cougar management is easy to implement, incurs few if any added costs, satisfies agency and stakeholder interests, assures professional credibility, and may be applied throughout their range in western North America. © 2013 The Wildlife Society.

Richard A. Beausoleil, Gary M. Koehler, Benjamin T. Maletzke, Brian N. Kertson, Robert B. Wielgus
NOTE: LANDFIRE EVT data in estimating amount of cougar habitat in WA for management guidelines