SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Utah wildlife managers are allowing more hunters to pursue cougars despite pleas from conservationists and animal lovers.

Utah Wildlife Board members voted earlier this week to raise the number of permits for hunting cougars for next year’s hunt. The board has approved issuing 490 permits, up from 460.

The panel also passed a new cougar management plan that will not be reviewed for another decade. But permit changes will be reviewed every year.

Displeased conservation advocates say more hunting could endanger the cougar population.

“Once again, they are not informed by the best available science,” said Kirk Robinson, executive director of the Utah-based Western Wildlife Conservancy. “The best science really supports killing fewer cougars.”

Robinson and other supporters had asked the board to decrease the number of hunting permits by 25 percent, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. He said hunters on average bag cougars that are 38 months old. But it takes 44 months for a female cougar to mature and nurture its first litter of kittens. Robinson fears the high number of permits means more cougar kittens with missing mothers starving to death. Furthermore, there would be a disproportionate number of mature male cougars on the prowl.

“It’s the equivalent of human teenagers roaming the land,” he said. “We might end up with more problems if we kill too many cougars.”

There are likely between 2,500 and 4,500 cougars in Utah judging by the amount of suitable habitat, according to the state Division of Wildlife Resources. The state’s management plan takes into account other populations such as deer, bighorn sheep and even humans when calculating the number of cougar permits each year.

Permits for specific hunting zones, however, have not increased across the board. Board members reduced the number in six sites but boosted it in others. In comes cases, the board approved the boost with the caveat that it would drop as the cougar population declined.

Utah’s harvest rate of cougars is 9 percent or an average of 421 cougars each year, said Leslie McFarlane, the Division of Wildlife’s mammals program coordinator.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com