SALT LAKE CITY -- After a long public hearing, the State Wildlife Board approved a proposed increase in the number of cougar hunting permits available in Utah.
Cougars are the fourth largest cat species in the world after tigers, lions and jaguars. They roam North and South America and are not considered threatened.
In Utah, the Division of Wildlife Resources estimates their population at a minimum of 2,000, and they believe it's more likely there are close to 4,000 of the big cats in the Beehive State.
Cougars present the classic argument between two groups dedicated to preserving western wildlife and landscapes.
Sportsmen see them as a pinnacle predator presenting a special challenge. So long as the population is healthy, hunting is a positive activity the state should encourage.
Asked why he recommended increasing the number of cougar permits from 531 to 581 (up from earlier requests of 565 and 571), mammals program coordinator Darren DeBloois said it was about opportunity.
"We feel like our management parameters are indicating a growing lion population and therefore there's an additional opportunity for people who want to hunt or pursue lions in the state," DeBloois said.
Many environmentalists see the cougar as a species with a right to exist with minimal interference from people, creatures to be appreciated and not harvested.
The Humane Society of America, the Humane Society of Utah, and the Wild Utah Project spoke against the permit increase, suggesting the state is overestimating the cougar population in Utah.
"Instead of just blindly increasing the quota each year to sell more permits to the hunters who want to kill a trophy, we want to take a conservative approach to get more understanding of the population," said DeAnn Shepherd of the Utah Humane Society.
The appointed board, which is made up largely of hunters from around the state, approved the increase in a unanimous vote.