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Texas wildlife officials propose stricter rules on mountain lion hunting and trapping

A mountain lion pictured in the Davis Mountains of Far West Texas. (Ben Masters / Fin & Fur Films)
A mountain lion pictured in the Davis Mountains of Far West Texas. (Ben Masters / Fin & Fur Films)

Texas wildlife officials are proposing stricter rules on mountain lion hunting and trapping, including a statewide ban on hunting the wild cats in captivity.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced Monday it would take public comments on the proposed regulations through May 22.

The new rules, if approved by TPWD commissioners, would institute a ban on “canned hunting” of the animals, which the department defines as “the capture and later release of a mountain lion for the purpose of hunting.” The regulations would also include a new requirement that mountain lines “are not kept alive in traps or snares for more than 36 hours,” the department said.

The proposal stems from a yearslong push for stronger mountain lion protections from Texas conservationists, but it does not incorporate all of the changes that advocates had called for.

In 2022, the advocacy group Texans for Mountain Lions formally petitioned TPWD for stricter regulations, arguing that while there is much uncertainty about the wild cats’ numbers in Texas, available research has suggested a steady decline. Mountain lions once roamed across the state, but are now mostly found in West and South Texas.

Ben Masters, a wildlife filmmaker and advocate with the Texas group, described the proposal as a step in the right direction, but said officials could have gone farther.

“I do wish that there was more of a comprehensive management plan that actually looked more into how many mountain lions do we have,” he said. “So I’m glad, but I’m also a little bit disappointed that a management plan didn’t come out of it.”

According to Masters, hunting of captive mountain lions is not a common practice in Texas.

“There is very, very little canned hunting” in the state, he said. “Most of the lion control in Texas is for [protecting] deer and cattle and sheep, that’s the purpose behind it.”

In Texas, critics of canned hunting have mostly focused on the state’s exotic hunting operations, where non-native animals like Axis deer and Blackbuck antelope can be hunted “by any means or methods at any time of year” under state regulations.

While Texans for Mountain Lions’ petition initially failed in 2022, state wildlife officials did agree to form a working group on the issue composed of landowners, conservationists, trappers and other stakeholders. Monday’s proposal is the result of that group’s conversations, the department said.

“A lot of the working group members talked about their own ethics, and that their own ethics were to check their traps daily or very frequently,” said Richard Heilbrun, a wildlife expert who served as TPWD liaison to the working group.

Heilbrun said the group’s members were “100% in agreement” about banning canned hunting, but there was “disagreement on the specifics” about changing the trapping requirements.

According to a summary of the proposal, the working group considered but rejected some of the other protection strategies that conservationists had pushed for, including rules that would have essentially created a mountain lion hunting season in Texas with limits on how many of the wild cats could be killed in a given time period.

“We have so little data on mountain lions right now that we can’t even begin to talk about seasons or bag limits,” Heilbrun said. “So right now, it’s a phase of just trying to increase our understanding of what the mountain lion population in Texas looks like.”

It’s unclear if the proposal will face pushback from Texas farmers and ranchers, who have historically viewed the animal as more of a nuisance and economic threat than wildlife deserving of protection.

A spokesperson for the Texas Farm Bureau did not comment directly on the proposed rules, but said the agriculture trade group supports “classifying the mountain lion as a predator rather than a game animal.”

James Clement, an advocate with the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said in a statement the ranching group will be “conducting a comprehensive review of the proposed rule to fully understand how the rule impacts our members and wildlife conservation efforts.”

“Cattle raisers have long been integral in the conservation of wildlife and natural resources,” he said. “Ranchers protect both livestock and wildlife through any regulation.”

TPWD commissioners are set to hear public comments on the proposal rules in person at a May 23 meeting in Austin.

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Travis Bubenik