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For the first time, Texas regulates Mountain Lion hunting and trapping

A Mountain Lion walks through a wooded area of the Davis Mountains. Mountain Lions are found in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas as far west as El Paso, the brushlands of  South Texas and some parts of the Hill Country.
Ben Masters
Fin and Fur Films
A Mountain Lion walks through a wooded area of the Davis Mountains. Mountain Lions are found in the Trans-Pecos region of Texas as far west as El Paso, the brushlands of South Texas and some parts of the Hill Country.

In a historic vote the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission approved rules for hunting and trapping Mountain Lions in the state. The unanimous vote by the 11 commissioners banned canned hunts and set a 36-hour limit for checking traps for live Mountain Lions.

Until now, there was no requirement for checking a trap and the big cats could be left to die of exposure or dehydration.

“We don’t need to facilitate negligence. We have a duty to manage wildlife. We have a duty to be ethical as hunters,” Brandt Buchanan, a ranch manager and hunter told commissioners.

Buchanan traveled from Marfa to the Texas Parks and Wildlife commission's meeting in Austin speak in favor of the new rules. Other ranchers, hunters, trappers, wildlife researchers, and members of multiple conservation organizations in the state also commented Thursday ahead of the commission's vote.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recommended commissioners adopt the rules after hearing from a Mountain Lion stakeholders’ group that met for a year and half. The agency also asked for input from the public and 7,531 Texans commented via the TPWD website, in writing or by phone with 91 percent in favor of the new rules, according to the agency.

“The goal here is to have a huntable, sustainable population of Mountain Lions,” Wildlife Diversity Program Director Richard Heilbrun, told Commissioners

There was also an effort to minimize the impact on coyote trapping in order to keep trapping as a “tool” for ranchers he said.

During a work session the day before the vote Heilbrun told commissioners he could find data from other states for guidance because none allow Mountain Lion trapping.

The president of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Rodney Kott spoke in opposition to the trap time check requirement. “Predators are a serious issue for our industry. It’s kind of like shoplifting to a business,” he said.

Kott raises sheep in Gillespie County where coyotes are the main predators but he said the new rules might affect him if a Mountain Lion “stumbled into my snare.” His industry recommended the commission adopt a best practices guidelines approach instead of regulations.

“This regulation would ensure trapping is done ethically,” wildlife researcher Patricia Harveson told commissioners. “However, the resistance to setting this basic standard underscores the need because all traps are not checked frequently, resulting in a prolonged death and unneeded suffering,” she said.

Harveson has spent 20 years researching the state’s largest wild cat and is a member of Texans for Mountain Lions, a coalition that includes biologists, conservationists, and landowners. “Mountain Lions are dying in traps and snares,” Harveson said.

Executive director of government relations for the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association Melissa Hamilton said ranchers need the ability to manage Mountain Lions without facing “criminal penalties.” Violating the new regulation is class C misdemeanor.

“As beautiful as they are, they are a predator and a predator that is deadly to livestock on our members' ranches,” Hamilton told Commissioners.

“I sympathize with the trappers and the folks that are trying to protect their livestock in regards to the fuel costs, the time cost and in regards to not wanting to be a criminal in not checking your traps every day,” wildlife filmmaker Ben Masters told commissioners.

A Mountain Lion cub in Texas follows its mother.
Fin and Fur Films
A Mountain Lion cub in Texas follows its mother.

Masters brought a small motion-activated camera to the meeting and told commissioners technology offers an affordable way for ranchers and trappers to comply with the new regulations for live Mountain Lions caught in traps.

“I don’t believe the trappers will regulate themselves,” Masters said.

Texas has been an outlier as the only state that did not have any regulations for mountain lion trapping and hunting. Masters and other supporters of the new rules told Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners it was time.

“Y'all have the opportunity today to show some dignity and respect to our cats,” Masters said.

Copyright 2024 KTEP

Angela Kocherga
Emmy winning multimedia journalist Angela Kocherga is news director with KTEP and Borderzine. She is also multimedia editor with ElPasoMatters.org, an independent news organization.