Currently, 11 western states and 2 Canadian provinces use sport hunting as the primary mechanism for managing cougar (Puma concolor) populations. Yet the impacts of sustained harvest on cougar population dynamics and demographic structure are not well understood. We evaluated the effects of hunting on cougar populations by comparing the dynamics and demographic composition of 2 populations exposed to different levels of harvest. We monitored the cougar populations on Monroe Mountain in south-central Utah, USA, and in the Oquirrh Mountains of north-central Utah from 1996 to 2004. Over this interval the Monroe population was subjected to annual removals ranging from 17.6–51.5% (mean ± SE = 35.4 ± 4.3%) of the population, resulting in a >60% decline in cougar population density. Concurrently, the Oquirrh study area was closed to hunting and the population remained stationary. Mean age in the hunted population was lower than in the protected population (F = 9.0; df = 1, 60.3; P = 0.004), and in a pooled sample of all study animals, females were older than males (F = 13.8; df = 1, 60.3; P < 0.001). Females from the hunted population were significantly younger than those from the protected population (3.7 vs. 5.9 yr), whereas male ages did not differ between sites (3.1 vs. 3.4 yr), suggesting that male spatial requirements may put a lower limit on the area necessary to protect a subpopulation. Survival tracked trends in density on both sites. Levels of human-caused mortality were significantly different between sites (χ2 = 7.5; P = 0.006). Fecundity rates were highly variable in the protected population but appeared to track density trends with a 1-year lag on the hunted site. Results indicate that harvest exceeding 40% of the population, sustained for ≥4 years, can have significant impacts on cougar population dynamics and demographic composition. Patterns of recruitment resembled a source–sink population structure due in part to spatially variable management strategies. Based on these observations, the temporal scale of population recovery will most likely be a function of local harvest levels, the productivity of potential source populations, and the degree of landscape connectivity among demes. Under these conditions the metapopulation perspective holds promise for broad-scale management of this species.
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Vol. 70 • No. 6