“It’s Time, Texas”: Scientists Call on State to Provide First-ever Active Management of Mountain Lions Facing Regional Disappearance

Mountain lion walking in a rocky area
@Ben Masters / Fin & Fur Films

“It’s Time, Texas”

Scientists Call on State to Provide First-ever Active Management of Mountain Lions Facing Regional Disappearance

Mountain lion walking in a rocky area
@Ben Masters / Fin & Fur Films

Of 16 states home to breeding mountain lions, Texas is the lone state without protection of the species.

Mountain lion mortality rates in Texas among highest in country.

Media Contact: Susie Weller Sheppard, sweller@panthera.org, 347-446-9904

Austin, TX – In a new paper published this week in the Wildlife Society Bulletin, scientists have called on the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) to initiate regulatory changes that establish a first-ever management policy to ensure the long-term persistence of mountain lions in Texas, and to halt their potential regional disappearance in South Texas.

Currently, Texas is the lone state of 16 which are home to breeding mountain lion populations that 1) does not offer any protections for mountain lions, 2) allows recreational trapping of mountain lions, and 3) lacks a management plan for mountain lions.

Right now, Texans can pursue unlimited hunting and trapping of mountain lions year-round, and they aren’t required to report any animals they kill to wildlife managers. Human-caused mortality rates for mountain lions in Texas are among the highest in the nation and far exceed hunting quotas that might maintain stable populations. Additionally, Texas mountain lion densities are among the lowest reported anywhere.

Facing regional eradication, the South Texas mountain lion population has experienced significant declines in its genetic diversity and unknown but likely significant losses of its population due to direct killing, isolation and habitat fragmentation. Recent camera surveys across the region have documented zero to few remaining animals.

Lead author and Panthera Puma Program Director, Dr. Mark Elbroch, stated, “State agencies are responsible for managing and protecting our shared natural resources. Our review makes plain that the TPWD must undertake immediate action to ensure mountain lions remain part of Texas natural heritage, especially in the south, where it may already be too late to maintain a viable population.”

Scientists outline a number of favorable factors supporting the establishment of such a mountain lion policy, including strong public support for TPWD and mountain lions, even in rural communities. Over the past 30 years, TPWD itself has also continuously acknowledged the need for and benefits of establishing a mountain lion management plan, including ensuring the species survives in the state, establishing reliable estimates of mountain lion numbers and mortalities, and meeting the legal mandates requiring TPWD to maintain and protect non-game species. Recent surveys of Texans directly counter these concerns and showed that 78% of respondents did not agree with the statement that private property rights are more important than protecting species.

A petition for rulemaking filed by Texans for Mountain Lions to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) urging action to conserve mountain lions in Texas was recently denied. However, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission was briefed on the issue in August and required that a mountain lion stakeholder advisory group be formed and led by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in order to provide guidance on the issue.

Texans for Mountain Lions is a coalition of landowners, biologists, conservationists, and organizations that is working to improve the status and conservation of the state’s largest wild cat, the mountain lion. Their purpose is to support the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission, and other stakeholders to implement a science-based management strategy to ensure the long-term survival of healthy mountain lion populations in Texas.

Coauthor, retired Sul Ross State University Professor, and long-time Texas mountain lion researcher, Dr. Patricia Harveson, stated, “Research studies have shown that the people of Texas value all wildlife. Mountain lions are an iconic species, and as we learn more about these apex predators, we are learning how important they are to the health of the ecosystems that support us all. My research confirms what other previous studies have also found; mountain lions in Texas need better management and protection.”

“It’s past time that Texas establishes a scientific management plan for the species,” concludes Elbroch. “Every western state except Texas already has one.”

Currently classified as ‘nongame,’ mountain lions in Texas can be killed “at any time, by any means, and in any quantity.” Once set, traps are not required to be checked, potentially leaving mountain lions, other wildlife and domestic animals inadvertently caught to starve or succumb to other animals and elements. Widely considered an unreliable estimation method, the number of living and dead mountain lions within Texas are counted using sightings and killings voluntarily reported by the public.

A recent scientific publication from Panthera and Defenders of Wildlife found that mountain lions maintain relationships with an astounding 485 living species and play a critical role in holding ecosystems together throughout the Western Hemisphere.

While mountain lions, also known as pumas, cougars and panthers, range across 28 countries in the Americas, they are poorly understood and thought to be declining overall. The species is elusive and often mischaracterized as a vicious, solitary predator, leading to persecution and fueling human-puma conflict. In the United States, pumas are threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, road mortality and disease; some populations are further impacted by legal hunting as well. In Latin America, the species faces the same threats, along with illegal hunting, which is generally retaliatory killing by ranchers over livestock and loss of prey.

Panthera’s Puma Program promotes the conservation of pumas across North and South America, with flagship projects in northwest Wyoming, western Washington state, California’s East Bay and the region surrounding Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Program activities include conflict mitigation, education, studying puma prey selection, addressing livestock predation and studying competition with other carnivores and the impact of reintroduced wolves in different parts of the puma’s range.

About Panthera

Panthera, founded in 2006, is devoted exclusively to preserving wild cats and their critical role in the world’s ecosystems. Panthera’s team of leading biologists, law enforcement experts and wild cat advocates develop innovative strategies based on the best available science to protect cheetahs, jaguars, leopards, lions, pumas, snow leopards, tigers and the 33 small cat species and their vast landscapes. In 39 countries around the world, Panthera works with a wide variety of stakeholders to reduce or eliminate the most pressing threats to wild cats—securing their future, and ours. Visit panthera.org.