Petition Urges Mountain Lion Conservation in Texas

For years, the big cats were 'largely treated as varmints.'

mountain lion
D E N N I S A X E R Photography / Getty Images

There are 16 states in the U.S. that have breeding mountain lion populations, but Texas is the only one that doesn’t protect them in some way.

So landowners, biologists, and conservation organizations in the state have joined together to urge conservation action for the big cats. The group Texans for Mountain Lions has filed a legal petition asking for more research, reporting, and hunting limits on the animals. Called a petition for rulemaking, it was submitted to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD).

Mountain lions in Texas are classified as a nongame species that can be hunted and trapped year-round without any limits on the number of animals or without a requirement to report animals that have been killed.

Also known as cougars, panthers, or pumas, the cats are listed as a species of least concern with population numbers decreasing, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Endangered Species.

In Texas, mountain lions are one of more than 1,300 species considered to be Species of Greatest Conservation Need. These are animals and plants that are typically “declining or rare and in need of attention to recover or to prevent the need to list under state or federal regulation.” They’re classified as between imperiled and vulnerable on that list.

“Yet, of all 16 states with breeding mountain lion populations, Texas is the only state without state-regulated management of mountain lions,” carnivore ecologist Patricia Moody Harveson, a member of Texans for Mountain Lions, tells Treehugger.

“Mountain lions are protected in California and Florida, and the other states have regulations that limit their harvest with quotas and seasons. They don't allow the killing of kittens or mothers with kittens and they also don't allow trapping. Texas doesn't have any of these regulations, nor does it require the reporting of harvests, so data is very limited on human-caused mortality.”

History of Mountain Lion Conflicts

Mountain lions lived throughout Texas until the mid-1900s. Their numbers dropped by about 1960 due to predator control methods, human encroachment onto their territories, and the loss of that habitat. The big cats were long considered a threat to people and animals.

“Across the U.S., mountain lions were largely treated as varmints in the early 20th century until around 1970 when most western states began to regulate mountain lions via managed hunting seasons,” says Harveson. “Texas was the exception and in 1973 Texas listed mountain lions as a nongame species with no regulations on their harvest. Mountain lions pose real and perceived risks to people and livestock and Texas has had a rich history of livestock production.”

However, conservationists say the threat to livestock in some regions is no longer as great of a concern.

“In West Texas where the largest number of mountain lions live, sheep and goat production has reduced considerably and even cattle production has decreased,” Harveson says. “In its place, traditional ranches are being converted to recreational ranches with a focus on wildlife hunting and nonconsumptive uses.”

Because there’s no mandatory reporting, it’s difficult to know exactly how many of the animals are killed by hunters.

“There is currently no statewide estimate of the mountain lion population in Texas. Mountain lions are classified as non-game in code by the Texas Legislature. This classification cannot be changed by TPWD,” Cory Chandler, deputy communications director for TPWD, tells Treehugger.

“Mountain lions are known to have a greater impact on sheep and goats than on cattle. As a result, sheep and goat ranchers generally engage in more mountain lion control. Also, ranches that engage in commercial hunts for mule deer sometimes engage in lion control.”

Researchers point out that Texas doesn’t appear to have a large industry focused on hunting the big cats like other states. They’re mostly trapped and killed as predator control.

One key item in the petition is to end canned hunting, which is when animals that have been captured or injured are released to be killed.

“I don't know how often this happens, but it's a loophole in our current regulations that need to be closed to stop this from ever happening. A study in the 1990s found that mountain lions in South Texas were shot opportunistically by deer hunters. The South Texas population has declined and is isolated from other populations so removing animals without fully understanding how this could be affecting that population is concerning,” Harveson says. 

“We need to know how many lions are in South Texas and how many are being harvested to be able to manage that population so that it doesn't continue to decline.”

Understanding Population and Distribution

In the petition, the group is also asking for research to identify the population, status, and distribution of the cats throughout the state. They want to require harvest (hunting) reporting, require traps to be checked every 36 hours, and the formation of an advisory group to help create a management plan.

“Texas only collects voluntary sightings and mortalities, so there is very little information on the distribution and abundance of mountain lions in the state. The easiest first step in acquiring more data would be to require the reporting of harvested mountain lions,” Harveson says.

Researchers could collect data from those animals such as age, sex, and genetic samples.

The group is also asking to limit hunting in south Texas to five mountain lions maximum annually until the TPWD can ascertain population size and status and create sustainable limits.

“Ultimately, a management plan that is data-driven and sets reasonable limits on their harvest is needed to ensure the sustainability of mountain lion populations in Texas,” Harveson says.

Looking for Change

There have been failed attempts to change how mountain lions are managed in Texas. But this time, the group hopes that things will be different.

“Texans for Mountain Lions is approaching this effort with a respect for the hunting and ranching community that is responsible for the on-the-ground management of most of our mountain lions in Texas,” says Harveson who says the petition requests are “very reasonable and far less than the regulations that have already been adopted by other western states.”

Group members are encouraged that changes will be made this time. 

“Today, public attitudes toward predators have changed as their importance in the health and function of our ecosystems has been realized. This current effort to push for regulations for mountain lions is supported by a majority of Texans,” Harveson says.

“In a recent survey on Texan attitudes towards mountain lions, 70% of respondents agreed that efforts should be made to ensure the survival of mountain lions in Texas. Similar responses were reported in a survey published in 2002. So yes, there will be some resistance, but most Texans want better management of mountain lions and will support this change.”

TPWD says the organization is reviewing the petition.

“Texas Parks and Wildlife Department has received and will carefully consider a petition for rulemaking from Texans for Mountain Lions,” Chandler says. “As required by department policy, our staff are reviewing the petition and will prepare their recommendations for our commissioners, who will make the final decision on what actions, if any, to take.”

View Article Sources
  1. "State By State." The Cougar Fund.

  2. "Nongame, Exotic, Endangered, Threatened & Protected Species." Texas Parks and Wildlife.

  3. "Puma." International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List.

  4. "Species of Greatest Conservation Need." Texas Parks and Wildlife.

  5. "Mountain Lions in Texas." Texas Parks and Wildlife.

  6. carnivore ecologist Patricia Moody Harveson, a member of Texans for Mountain Lions

  7. "Petition for Rule-making to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission Research and Management of Mountain Lions (Puma Concolor) in Texas." Texans for Mountain Lions.