Coalition files petition with Texas Parks and Wildlife in an effort to regulate, conserve state mountain lion populations

Texans for Mountain Lions, a newly-formed coalition, filed a petition recently with Texas Parks and Wildlife, the first of many steps in its effort to gain conservation protections for the state’s mountain lion populations. Courtesy Deep in the Heart Film.

AUSTIN — Texans for Mountain Lions, a newly-formed alliance of conservationists, biologists and landowners, recently filed a petition with Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPWD) to advocate for greater protections for the state’s mountain lion population, which they say is in danger due to a lack of hunting regulations. 

“Action should be taken to ensure a future for our mountain lions in Texas,” said Ben Masters, a member of the coalition and director of the recently released wildlife film Deep in the Heart. “Mountain lions are an iconic wildlife species in Texas. Without any science or a management plan, mountain lion populations in some areas of the state may not be viable into the future.” 

Texas is the only state with breeding mountain lion populations that does not carry out any formal monitoring programs or conservation management plans. Found primarily in South and West Texas, mountain lions are classified by TPWD as nongame species, meaning trapping and harvesting is permitted to take place year-round and is not subject to hunting seasons, harvest limits or harvest reporting requirements.

The petition outlines the coalition’s asks, which include conducting a study to learn more about the state’s mountain lion population, requiring harvest reporting and a 36-hour trap check time to prevent mountain lions from dying of exposure, limiting harvests in South Texas to five or fewer annually until more data is gathered, prohibiting canned hunting — killing of mountain lions that violates fair chase — and the formation of a stakeholder advisory group to collaborate with TPWD on a mountain lion management plan moving forward. 

The petition makes the case for protecting Texas’ mountain lions, stating the state’s growing human population is expected to increase from 30 to 50 million over the next three decades and animals would encounter increased habitat fragmentation due to infrastructure and roads. Mountain lions, in addition to being powerful symbols of Texas’ identity, utilized in various forms as mascots and more, are critical to the state’s ecosystems, the petition states. 

The group is advocating that discussion of the petition be included in a late August TPWD commission meeting. TPWD, who has yet to announce a decision on the matter, can either deny the petition or opt to include it on the meeting agenda. 

Dr. Patricia Harveson, who lives in Alpine, co-authored a scientific paper titled “It’s time to manage mountain lions in Texas,” which was released in conjunction with the petition to provide further background on the current status and history of mountain lions in the states. Harveson, who is a member of Texans for Mountain Lions, previously served as the head of the carnivore research program at the Borderlands Research Institute for 15 years. 

Harveson said the purpose of the paper, which contains internal TPWD documents obtained from open records requests, was to detail previous and current concerns regarding the lack of information available about Texas mountain lions raised by external and internal TPWD stakeholders. 

“Our hope is that the paper will provide context to the situation and clarify our reasons for submitting a petition to TPWD for the research and management of mountain lions in Texas,” said Harveson. 

The paper discusses past attempts, all of which have been unsuccessful, to change the status of the state’s nonexistent mountain lion regulations. But Texans for Mountain Lion’s newly-filed petition differs in a number of ways, said Harveson, and has evolved over time from conversations held with landowners, livestock producers and hunters. Because Texas is 96% private land, the everyday management of mountain lions by and large falls on private landowners. 

“Texans for Mountain Lions is approaching this effort with respect for the hunting and ranching community that is responsible for the on-the-ground management of most of our mountain lions in Texas,” said Harveson. “Our petition requests are very reasonable and far less than the regulations that have already been adopted by other western states.” 

Harveson noted too that public perception of mountain lions was changing and she believed the majority of Texans would be in favor of the proposed measures outlined in the petition. The paper cites a study in which 70% of respondents agreed efforts should be made to ensure the survival of mountain lions in Texas.

“Today, public attitudes toward predators have changed as their importance in the health and

function of our ecosystems has been realized,” Harveson said. 

The practice of trapping mountain lions in West Texas has traditionally been done in order to protect livestock populations such as sheep, goat and cattle, but has persisted despite the fact that the area’s tradition of livestock production has waned over time, said Harveson. Because traditional ranches have turned to recreational hunting as a means of income, mountain lions are still being trapped to preserve numbers of deer and bighorn sheep, said Harveson. 

The current number of ranches in the tri-county area utilizing mountain lion traps to control populations is unknown, said Harveson, as is whether or not any area ranches practice canned hunting. Harveson said harnessing that information will be vital moving forward in order to sustain local mountain lion populations. West Texas, which is home to the highest population of the state’s mountain lions, might even help repopulate species in South Texas, which are more critically endangered. 

“Past genetics research has shown that the South Texas population is isolated from the West Texas population,” said Harveson. “One way to address this would be to allow mountain lions from the west to travel and disperse into South Texas. This could be done by enhancing landscape connectivity through voluntary conservation programs that allow mountain lions safe movement through corridors.” 

Texans for Mountain Lions is urging citizens to submit letters of support for the petition, which will be sent to a number of public officials on the state level, via their website. The Big Bend Sentinel will continue to report on this issue as it develops. 

To sign the petition, visit texansformountainlions.org/take-action/