TPWD Allows Unlimited Killing Of Cougars

Although the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) own studies indicate that 70 percent of the lions monitored are being killed by humans, they have once again refused to limit their killing. "Texas is the only state in the United States that continues to allow the unlimited and unregulated killing of mountains lions--including female lions and their kittens," said Susan George, State Counsel for Defenders of Wildlife in Albuquerque. "It’s time that TPWD begins practicing sound conservation biology as we work throughout the Southwest to protect and preserve viable populations of mountain lions."

Twenty-nine mountain lions, (7 collared) were killed by humans on the 1,182 square mile study area in South Texas during that 4-year study. That is 68% of the lions monitored. "Two subadult females were shot <3 months after having dispersed from their maternal ranges, whereas another subadult female was shot prior to dispersing (Characteristics of a Mountain Lion Population in Southern Texas by Louis A. Harveson, Michael E. Tewes and Nova J. Silvy, 1998)." Harveson concluded, "The harvesting of female and juvenile mountain lions in this southern Texas population appears to be greater than recruitment of mountain lions into the populations through immigration and reproduction." This information from Harveson indicates a lion population in decline.

In West Texas, 13 of 18 collared lions were killed on the Big Bend Ranch State Park’s 414 square mile study area during that 4-year study. All 13 of those lions were killed by a private trapper north of the Park. That is 72% of the lions monitored. In addition, during that same 4-year time period, 27 additional lions were killed north of the Park by the same trapper. TPWD’s mortality reporting data indicates that an additional 408 lions were reported to have been killed in the Trans-Pecos and 36 in South Texas (Berger 1998, Pittman 1997, & George 1998).

Upon discovery of these findings the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife mailed a letter (on November 2, 1998) to the Parks & Wildlife Commissioners requesting action to limit the killing along with the establishment and implementation of a Texas Mountain Lion Management Plan. While the Commissioners have failed to respond, TPWD Executive Director, Andy Sansom wrote, "At this time, we do not plan to implement any additional restrictions on the take of mountain lions. Neither do we believe the situation mandates the immediate need for a Texas Mountain Lion Plan." TPWD officials base this claim on increasing voluntary unverified lion sightings and mortality (road and hunting kills) reports since the TPWD began soliciting voluntary sightings and mortality reports.

"Large predators often are instrumental in maintaining the integrity (ecological structure, resilience, and diversity) of ecosystems.  And maintaining these major ecological players requires extensive space and connectivity...(Soule, M. and R. Noss (Reed) WildEarth, Fall 1998. (Vol. 8, no. 3) ‘Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary goals for continental conservation.’)." "It is irresponsible and scientifically unsound to pretend that Texas has a healthy and viable lion population based soley on voluntary sightings reports," said Dr. Melissa Grigione, Wildlife Conservation Biologist for Defenders of Wildlife.

"It’s time TPWD begins listening to conservation biologists and manage our native wildlife in a scientifically sound manner," said Dr. Barbara Dugelby, Staff Ecologist for The Wildlands Project. "Every conservation biologist working up and down the continental divide knows how important it is to preserve large carnivores, their habitat and their connecting corridors (mountain lions are known as "umbrella species" because they depend on large, healthy ecosystems—protecting enough habitat to assure a viable population of these organisms benefits many other species that are more restricted in their range). Preserving Texas mountain lion habitat preserves Texas’ natural heritage."

Since 1971, the Sierra Club and other conservation groups have been working to improve the status of mountain lions in Texas. Legislation was filed during the 1971 and 1995 Texas Legislative Session that would have designated the lion as a game species. Both bills failed primarily due to lack of support from TPWD and certain members of the legislature. The cougar is a designated game animal in every western state except California (where they are totally protected). "We can no longer afford to allow TPWD (the state agency responsible for the preservation of Texas’ native wildlife) to continue to allow unlimited and unregulated lion killing when their own data indicates that a mountain lion slaughter is going on in South and West Texas," said Scott Royder, spokesperson for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.