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States had rules for hunting and trapping mountain lions except Texas. That's changed

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Every state has rules for hunting and trapping mountain lions except Texas - that is, until now because ranchers who for years have opposed regulations for hunting and trapping the big cats have changed their minds. Angela Kocherga of member station KTEP reports from El Paso.

(SOUNDBITE OF COW MOOING)

ANGELA KOCHERGA, BYLINE: At the largest international livestock crossing in the hemisphere, cowboys herd hundreds of head of beef cattle a day across the border from Mexico to the U.S. They run through a large gate under the watchful eye of a U.S. customs officer. Daniel Manzanares is director of the livestock facility.

DANIEL MANZANARES: We're looking at our secondary scale where they weigh.

(SOUNDBITE OF COW MOOING)

MANZANARES: The buyer weighs the cattle that have been sorted.

KOCHERGA: Manzanares encounters ranchers from both sides of the border and all across the U.S. He understands their concerns about predators, including mountain lions.

MANZANARES: I'm sure there is an opportunistic element. If it sees a calf, it's going to take it down.

KOCHERGA: In Texas, ranchers have long balked at the idea of any regulations on hunting and trapping the big cats. A stakeholders group set up by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department recommended two basic rules - a ban on canned hunting - that's when a mountain lion is caught and released to be killed - and a 36-hour requirement for checking traps. Ben Masters is a wildlife filmmaker and a member of Texans for Mountain Lions.

BEN MASTERS: It's just not right to leave mountain lions sitting in a trap for days on end until they die of dehydration and exposure.

KOCHERGA: Much of the Texas land that is prime territory for mountain lions is privately owned. Creating even basic regulations required the support of people like Brandt Buchanan. He manages a sprawling ranch in West Texas. Buchanan got involved after getting a question about a trapper in the area.

BRANDT BUCHANAN: This guy says he's killing 70 lions a year in these traps. Is that a problem?

KOCHERGA: It was. And Buchanan says what he learned about inhumane trapping convinced him it was time to do something. He took the issue to the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, where he serves on the executive committee. For decades, conservation groups had tried and failed to get Texas to establish mountain lion hunting and trapping regulations. Buchanan says a member told him they were reluctant to try again.

BUCHANAN: It's pretty discouraging because I - trying to find a way to tell him, like, I'm a rancher and a hunter. I've spoken to my people. They're on the same page as us. And it's not a difficult thing.

KOCHERGA: But finding common ground was difficult. Powerful ranching associations fought against creating any rules. The president of the Texas Sheep and Goat Raisers Association, Rodney Kott, says they oppose regulations because predators are a serious issue for his industry.

RODNEY KOTT: It's kind of like shoplifting to a business. We have a certain amount of loss that's built into our program. Right now with good management, we lose 7- to 12% of our lamb crop every year to predators, coyotes being the major one.

KOCHERGA: But with the support of other ranchers, hunters, landowners and the public, Texas Parks and Wildlife commissioners recently unanimously approved the first mountain lion regulations. Wildlife filmmaker Ben Masters says it's clear nobody in Texas wants to see the native big cats disappear.

MASTERS: That could be one of the few things that we agree on in the state. We love Texas. We love Texas wildlife. We love Texas wild places. And the mountain lion is the apex of that wildness.

KOCHERGA: The next step for the state is to create a mountain lion management plan, which exists for several other species. The plan would not only cover remote ranch land, but also areas where the population of Texas is booming and housing developments moving ever closer to where mountain lions make their home.

For NPR News, I'm Angela Kocherga in El Paso.

(SOUNDBITE OF RHIANNON GIDDENS' "MOUNTAIN BANJO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Angela Kocherga