Pros and cons of open season on mountain lions discussed

ALPINE – Tension was evident on both sides of the open-season issue during the Texas Mountain Lion: Past, Present, Future conference held at Sul Ross State University, recently.

“You can’t take away open season if you don’t have data on the animal,” said one rancher from the Davis Mountains.

The conference, attended by about 60 people, was sponsored by the Conservation Biology Club of SRSU and the Big Bend Sierra Club. It focused primarily on whether mountain lions should have laws in place to protect the species. Texas is the only state with an open season on the animal.

Presentations were made by Dr Sean Graham, SRSU Biology Professor and Raymond Skiles, Wildlife Biologist at Big Bend National Park.

Skiles suggested that there were about two dozen mountain lions living in the park, “but, maybe 18.” and that the numbers “generally went down during times of drought.” Their habitat is mainly in the Chisos, however a tracking map showed that lions traveled great distances.

He went on to say that young lions were shooed from their mothers at 18 months and most often left the park, never to return.

Graham delivered details on ecosystem effects when apex predators such as the mountain lion are removed or brought back, as in the case of wolves at Yellowstone National Park.

“These apex predators influence communities,” said Graham, explaining that weak animals are the first to be eaten moreover an explosion of prey will also increase predator populations which almost always decreases later and that the co-relationship is firmly tied. “You cannot say that lynx control a hare population, because hares control the lynx population,” said Graham.

He went on to suggest, using other states as an example, that designating the lion as a game animal not only brings in revenue for the state but might provide more data on population densities. “By selling and collecting tags,” said Graham, “Texas Parks & Wildlife would be able to gather information through the success or non-success of hunters and trappers.”

That’s when it got a little warm in Lawrence Hall 309.

Later, after things cooled, it was pointed out that hunters nor anybody for that matter, seldom see the lion. “I’ve been living in lion country all my life and I’ve only seen six,” said one gray-haired rancher.

Trapping, likely the highest method of mortality after highway kills, was discussed.

“It’s very hard to capture a lion in a live trap. They’re too smart. But leg traps are another story. They both work 24 hours a day, but a leg trap can be a slow painful death and frankly should violate all hunters’ code of ethics,” said hunting guide and conservationist Brandt Buchanan.

Toward the end of the meeting one rancher suggested that pulling a tooth on killed lions and having TPW personnel later process it, might be a way to use DNA as an indicator for population density and biologic diversity. “Although,” he said with his cowboy hat cocked, “it might be hard to get my neighbors to agree.”