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ARIZONA VOICES

Arizona Voices: Mountain lions and trophy hunting in Arizona

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Mountain Lion Kittens

This image provided by the National Park Service, shows mountain lion kittens that were discovered in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Nov. 30, 2021.

Hunters are trained to know their target, take careful aim, and be selective and precise before firing. Unfortunately, during public hearing about statewide hunting guidelines, some statements by commissioners about mountain lion hunting went wide of the mark.

On December 10, many Arizonans voiced their opposition to hunting of native carnivores, especially mountain lions, during the debate over draft Hunt Guidelines, which will regulate hunting of many species from 2023-2028. Referencing scientific literature on best practices for mountain lion management, Arizonans called for limiting the annual killing of mountain lions to no more than 14 percent of the independent (non-kitten) lion population and reducing the killing of adult female lions to 20 percent of the hunt.

However, each time someone used the phrase ‘trophy hunting’ in their comment, Commissioner Todd Geiler made a point to say that “We don’t have trophy hunting in Arizona, it’s nowhere in statute.” Geiler insisted that mountain lion hunting is not trophy hunting because most hunters eat the meat, boasting that he too had recently eaten mountain lion meat.

The fact that Game and Fish regulations do not use the term trophy hunting does not will the term out of relevance. People hunt for many reasons, from sustenance to sport to maintaining a tradition, and lion hunters probably hunt for some of these reasons too.

However, it is hard to believe that lion hunters don’t view lions primarily as trophies. Mountain lions are one of the most expensive animals to hunt, costing thousands of dollars to hire a guide or even more money to raise and train your own hounds. That's a lot of money to invest if obtaining meat is the only motivation.

Additionally, the advertising language used by mountain lion guides and outfitters demonstrates the motivation of their clientele. Arizona Game and Fish’s 2021-2022 Arizona Hunting Regulations guidebook lists four recommended mountain lion hunting guides and outfitters, and all of them refer to lions as trophies on their websites and social media.

Aside from a dismissal of all comments that mentioned trophy hunting, Geiler offered only one substantive critique of the public’s science-based recommendations regarding mountain lions. At the end of public comment, he said, “Voters removed the mountain lion season in California, and subsequently the fish and game department kills more lions than hunters ever did,” implying that hunting is necessary to prevent human-lion conflicts.

However, publicly available data from both California and Arizona refutes this claim. Over the last five years, California killed an average of 136 lions per year. Arizona, by contrast, killed an average of 322 lions per year, despite having a considerably smaller population of mountain lions. If anything, California’s prioritization of non-lethal management practices is working remarkably well. Research by California’s wildlife managers found that non-lethal deterrents were more effective for reducing conflicts than hunting or relocating the big cats.

When it comes to conserving this iconic species, I hope the Game and Fish Commission heeds the science as they review recommendations in the upcoming public comment period through Jan. 31. For more information on Arizona’s mountain lion management and how to submit comments, visit https://mountainlion.org/us/arizona/#!action

Logan Christian is a Conservation Advocate with Mountain Lion Foundation, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring that mountain lions survive and flourish in the wild.

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