TheTexas Parks and Wildlife Commission will vote on historic legislation this month to prohibit canned hunting of mountain lions and require that traps for the wildcats be checked every 36 hours. Photo by Ben Masters.

May 7, 2024

Texas officials want your comments on whether the state’s largest wild cat should be protected from cruel trapping practices and captive thrill kills.

From now until 5 p.m. on May 22, Texans can share their thoughts with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners on a proposal up for vote that would prohibit canned hunting of confined mountain lions and require trappers to routinely check their traps to ensure that the wild cats do not suffer for days, even weeks, while ensnared.

If passed at the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners meeting in Austin on May 23, 2024, the proposal would be the first step in the state’s history to actively manage the state’s mountain lion populations. The new rules would bring Texas in line with other states in the nation by extending basic protections to the wild cats, also known as cougars, pumas and panthers.

Of the 16 states where mountain lions live, Texas is currently the only state that does not regulate the hunting and trapping of the species, which leaves the wild cat vulnerable to abuse. 

"Of the 16 states where mountain lions live, Texas is currently the only state that does not regulate the hunting and trapping of the species, which leaves the wild cat vulnerable to abuse."

The move to catch up to other states is wholly supported by Texans for Mountain Lions, a coalition of landowners, biologists and organizations supporting the scientific management of Texas’ largest wild cat. The organization is therefore urging Texans to go to the comments page on the TPWD website to register their agreement with the proposed rules.

Texans for Mountain Lions calls the upcoming TPW commissioners meeting the first opportunity in Texas history to determine whether mountain lions should be managed as other native species are managed. 

Specifically, the new rules would ban the practice of capturing mountain lions and later releasing them in a confined area where people can kill them with minimal pursuit, a practice commonly known as canned hunting. People who participate in canned hunts pay fees to for-profit hunting operations and may choose crossbows or even handguns as their weapons. This can result in the animal suffering many nonfatal injuries before succumbing to blood loss. Thus, canned hunts can inflict agonizing torture on animal victims that can last for hours before the animal dies.

A 2012 paper from Borderlands Research Institute examined mountain lion population density in South and West Texas. The South Texas population had an average of 1.1 mountain lions per 100,000 acres and the West Texas population had an average of 1.7 mountain lions per 100,000 acres. Low survival rates were due to high human-caused mortality from trapping and hunting in both areas. - Mountain Lion Stakeholder Group’s Report

Canned hunting is explicitly condemned by the Boone and Crockett Club, the oldest pro-hunting organization in the United States.

Additionally, canned hunting is regulated or prohibited in many states and countries, including Texas. While canned hunting is legal in Texas, it is unlawful to conduct canned hunts for certain exotic species, such as the African or Asiatic lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, hyena, bear, elephant, wolf or rhinoceros, or any subspecies or hybrid of these animals, but not mountain lions. To date, mountain lions remain entirely unprotected in the state.

The plight of Texas mountain lions is depicted in the documentary Deep in the Heart, directed by Ben Masters. Courtesy of Fin and Fur Films.

The proposal would also require people who set traps to kill mountain lions, to check their traps every 36 hours. This ensures that trapped mountain lions do not suffer for protracted periods of time, slowly dying by dehydration, malnourishment and exposure. The trap check rule would also reduce injuries and fatalities for non-target wildlife, domestic cats, dogs and livestock that get caught in traps set for mountain lions.

Of the 16 states with mountain lion breeding populations, 13 classify them as a game species and two as fully protected. Only Texas classifies them as nongame, according to the Mountain Lion Stakeholder Group Report, and they can be hunted yearround on private property.

In an interview with Green Source DFW's Texas Green Report in 2022, Texans for Mountain Lions coalition member and wildlife filmmaker Ben Masters said that the state must begin to regard mountain lions officially as a managed species, or Texans risk losing the wild cat’s presence in Texas heritage.

“We've got to have some basic things in place to safeguard that these cats can continue to live in Texas because let's face it, our state is growing from 30 million people to 50 million people over the next three decades.” said Masters, whose award-winning film Deep in the Heart features a segment on mountain lions. “Our landscapes are getting further and further fragmented as ranches split apart with each generation. The existence of these cats shouldn't be taken for granted 10, 20, 30 years down the road. And we've got to start putting some of these safeguards in place.”

Confirmed mountain lion reports 2012-2022. Courtesy of Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Texans for Mountain Lions coalition member Dr. Patricia Harveson is a wildlife researcher who’s spent much of her research career studying mountain lions and says that the proposed TPW rule gives hope to mountain lion advocates in the state.

“It is heartening to see the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department genuinely and thoughtfully move the needle on behalf of a species that so many Texans value as part of our natural heritage, and that gives back in supporting the health of our ecosystems,” said Harveson. “We are grateful to TPWD commissioners for creating a diverse stakeholder group to discuss this issue, and all who participated — from livestock owners to scientists — for listening to one another and engaging in difficult conversations to ensure all were represented.”

Masters says basic protections for mountain lions that ensure that they remain a part of Texas heritage are broadly supported by diverse Texans.

“Mountain lions are important to the culture of Texas and belong in the future of our state. That’s one thing that almost all trappers, hippies, hunters, houndsmen, ranchers, environmentalists, and Texans across the spectrum can agree on,” he says. “They’re a symbol of our remaining wild places.”

TAKE ACTION

About: The Texas Parks and Wildlife Commissioners will be voting on a proposal that would prohibit canned hunting of confined mountain lions and require trappers to routinely check their traps every 36 hours.

When: The deadline for public comment on 31 TAC §65.950 is May 22 at 5 p.m. The vote will be held at a TPWC meeting on May 23, 2024 in Austin.

Website

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