The Elephant in the room: What can we learn from California regarding the use of sport hunting of pumas (Puma concolor) as a management tool?
Puma (Puma concolor) management in the western United States is highly contentious, particularly with regard to the use of sport hunting as a management tool. Since the 1970s, puma in ten western states have been managed by state fish and game agencies through the use of a sport hunt. The rationale presented by wildlife managers is that sport hunting, in addition to providing recreational hunting opportunities, also reduces threats to human safety and livestock safety, and increases populations of the puma’s ungulate prey, namely deer (Odocoileus sp.) and elk (Cervus elepus). We evaluated these claims using the state of California as a control, which has prohibited sport hunting since 1972, and employing data obtained from state and federal agencies with authority and control over puma management. Specifically, we tested four hypotheses: 1) sport hunting will suppress puma populations, 2) sport hunting will reduce the number of problematic puma-human encounters; 3) sport hunting will reduce puma predation on domestic livestock, and 4) sport hunting will reduce the impact of puma predation on wild ungulate numbers, resulting in increased hunting opportunities for the sport hunt of ungulates. Our results indicated, respectively, that relative to the 10 states where puma are hunted, California had 1) similar puma densities, 2) the 3rd lowest per capita problematic puma-human encounters, 3) similar per capita loss of cattle (P = 0.13) and a significantly lower (t = 5.7, P < 0.001) per capita loss of sheep, and 4) similar average deer densities while changes in annual deer populations correlated with changes in other states (F = 95.4, P < 0.001, R2 = 0.68). In sum, our analysis of the records obtained from state and federal wildlife agencies found no evidence that sport hunting of pumas has produced the management outcomes sought by wildlife managers aside from providing a sport hunting opportunity. Consequently, and particularly because other research suggests that sport hunting actually exacerbate conflicts between pumas and humans, we recommend that state agencies re-assess the use of sport hunting as a management tool for pumas.