Date of this Version
The Journal of Wildlife Management 80(1):27–36; 2016
Harvest indices are used by state wildlife management agencies to monitor population trends and set harvest quotas for furbearer species. Although harvest indices may be readily collected from hunters, the reliability of harvest indices for monitoring demography and abundance of the harvested species is rarely examined, particularly amongst large carnivores. The overall objective of this study was to assess whether cougar (Puma concolor) harvest statistics collected by wildlife managers were correlated with changes in cougar demography, mainly survival rates and abundance. We estimated key demographic parameters for 2 cougar populations in Utah over 17 years during which we monitored 235 radio-collared cougars. We then compared these demographic parameters to harvest statistics provided by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources over the same time period for the Oquirrh-Stansbury (lightly harvested population) and Monroe (heavily harvested population) harvest management units. In the Oquirrh-Stansbury unit, the percent of harvested cougars >6 years old was positively correlated with annual survival, indicative of a population experiencing several years of high survival resulting in an older age structure. Percent of permits filled and cougar abundance were also significantly correlated, suggesting higher hunting success with increased density. In the Monroe management unit, the annual percent of permits filled was correlated with changes in overall annual survival and male and female annual survival. Of utmost importance, pursuit success (cougars treed/day) increased with the number of cougars on the unit suggesting that pursuit indices may be an informative metric for wildlife managers to determine cougar population trends. Because both management units were subjected to contrasting mortality regimes, results provided by this assessment could potentially be applied to additional management areas sharing similar ecological characteristics and harvest metrics.