TEXAS VIEW: Texas must protect its mountain lions and ban footholds

THE POINT: “There’s a mountain lion somewhere right now stuck in a trap.”

A group of landowners and biologists is lobbying the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to manage mountain lion populations in the state. We hope Texans for Mountain Lions succeeds.

There is no closed season on mountain lions in Texas, and no limit on how many can be hunted or trapped. Of 16 U.S. states with breeding mountain lion populations, Texas is the only state without regulated management.

Even more concerning, the chief way mountain lions are killed in Texas is not by hunters, but by trappers, often with bear traps. Also called footholds, these are inhumane, spring-loaded, metal-toothed claws that snap closed on an animal’s leg. Since there’s no requirement for trappers to check their traps, a mountain lion may spend days in a trap before it dies of thirst or exposure.

A TPWD study in 1999 monitored 16 mountain lions in the Big Bend area. All 16 were killed by humans; 15 in footholds. A more recent study, soon to be published in the scientific journal Wildlife Society Bulletin, records a nearly 50% mortality rate among mountain lions in the Davis Mountains, almost entirely due to trapping.

Last week, Texans for Mountain Lions submitted a petition to TPWD, asking for six conservation reforms. While all six are worth pursuing, four are no-brainers:

  • Conduct research to identify the population size, status and distribution of mountain lions in Texas.
  • Require anyone who kills a mountain lion to report it to TPWD, just the way harvest reports are required for deer or other game animals.
  • Require 36-hour trap check times, so that trapped animals can either be euthanized humanely or transported.
  • Limit harvests to five or fewer mountain lions annually until TPWD can determine the population size and status and establish sustainable hunting limits.

Those are a good start but we would go further and outlaw footholds altogether. There is simply no good reason to allow them, and plenty of reasons to restrict them.

If opposition arises to this proposal, it will likely come from the livestock industry. To be sure, ranchers have the right to protect their herds, but they can do so with open hunting seasons or live traps just as easily as with footholds. According to a TPWD publication on mountain lions, they prefer wild game to cattle anyway, mostly hunting deer, antelope and hogs, as well as smaller animals.

We asked TPWD about footholds. Officials were hesitant to advocate for any position, but TPWD spokesperson Cory Chandler acknowledged that protecting mountain lions is good conservation.

“Predators are critical to maintaining a sustainable, healthy ecosystem for all wildlife, so our goal is to manage for sustainable and healthy predator populations in Texas while providing flexibility for landowners to manage their depredation and recreational opportunities to the public,” Chandler wrote in a statement.

Filmmaker Ben Masters is part of the group petitioning. He told us he became aware of this problem while filming a documentary.

“We were filming the mountain lion sequence and all of a sudden, the star cat showed up missing all his toes,” he said. “There aren’t naturally occurring deaths of mountain lions in Texas. They all get trapped. There’s a mountain lion somewhere right now stuck in a trap.”

Dallas Morning News