By Sharon St Joan
Standing on a rock in the sunlight surveying the lands below or leaping through a rushing stream, cougars, like all wild animals, have a striking, incredible beauty – an intrinsic worth and value as individuals and, collectively, as a species. The value of their lives is their own and is quite independent of their usefulness or benefit to human beings.
The natural world is an interwoven net, grown up over many millions of years, in which each species plays an essential role in the health and well-being of the whole. We are part of this net.
Extirpating or decimating any natural species harms the ecosystem and adversely impacts the vitality of the whole system.
Every year in Utah these beautiful animals, the lions of North America, are targeted for more killing. This year the planned hunting quotas are being raised yet again. For the 2017/2018 season, the proposed target for cougar hunting is 565, up 40 from last year. This does not even count certain areas where there is unlimited cougar hunting.
Like all of our fellow beings on the planet, as humans, we do need to use some resources – but, really, cougar hunting, which is mainly trophy hunting, is not a normal use of natural resources. It serves no purpose at all – not even for food.
Human beings’ use of the earth’s resources to live and thrive ought to be minimal and limited to what is actually needed. When we use more than our fair share, we are harming not just other species, but also ourselves. By using too much, we undermine the whole of nature, and nature is also our own habitat. It is the home where we live, and we cannot continue to live without the natural world. We are dependent on nature and the earth.
This core principle applies in a unique way to predators, which are keystone species. Scientific studies have shown that predators are essential to the health of wild lands and wild species. We must stop trying to get rid of them.
A study on the benefits of cougars
A scientific study done by Oregon State University, published in 2006 in the online publication Biological Conservation 133 (2006) 397-408, looked at the impact of cougars in Zion National Park. (Please see the links at the end of part two.)
This study uncovered profound, long-term effects following the decline of cougars in Zion.
As the numbers of cougars took a downward dip, herds of mule deer no longer kept moving along as they would naturally do in the presence of cougars. Instead, the deer began to spend a lot of time hanging about, congregating in stream beds, browsing on cottonwood and other saplings, and leading a “sedentary” lifestyle. The forest was diminished and the abundance of all wild species: mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and other plant and animal life went into decline. The stream beds were trampled and muddy, and all life near them dwindled.
By contrast, in the North Creek area of Zion National Park, where there was far less human intrusion, both the cougars and the deer remained lively and active much as they always had. With far less trampling, streambed erosion and loss of soil were less than half what they were in the rest of Zion. There was an abundance of young cottonwoods, squirrels, butterflies, lizards and water plants. There were three times as many fish found in streams in this area. The wild lands stayed healthy and thriving.
All this was thanks to the continued presence of the cougars. Cougars are essential to Utah’s wild lands.
Cougars benefit human beings too
A healthy ecosystem does, of course, also benefit human beings. Who would not prefer to be surrounded by wild lands where wildlife are active and in good shape, where lands shine with the natural vitality, health, and the beauty that nature intended?
When our wild lands are healthy, we too can breath clean air, drink pure water – our agriculture benefits, and so does our economy – not too mention our own health, peace of mind, and happiness.
Predators, including cougars, are keystone species that have been proven to sustain and invigorate the well-being of the environment on which our own lives depend.
Yet, paradoxically, we continue to persecute and attempt to eliminate these essential, beneficial predators. Coyotes, wolves, foxes, cougars, bobcats, and other species that belong in nature are systematically targeted, year after year, with increased quotas for hunting and/or trapping.
Why hunt cougars?
The hunting of cougars is not real hunting at all. No one hunts cougars for food.
They are hunted for trophies and also because of a mistaken perception that where there are fewer cougars, deer hunting will be better, and ranchers will lose fewer calves to predation. None of these beliefs is true.
The head of a cougar is far more beautiful and magnificent on the living animal where it belongs, than it is when it is dead and mounted on a wall.
Whether or not one is a deer hunter, we can all appreciate that the health of deer herds is enhanced by cougars and other predators who maintain a dynamic and beneficial relationship with the deer. The natural order of things serves the animals far better than human interference. Cougar populations are self-regulating and do not require human management. Their mating and breeding are determined by the numbers of cougars that the land will hold. Killing cougars does not regulate their population. The availability of food and good habitat does.
Continued in part two (with how to help, sources, and photo credits)…Click here.