OGDEN, Utah (AP) — Growing cougar populations in Utah have prompted the state's wildlife managers to recommend increasing the number of cougar hunting permits this fall to 579, up from 531 last year.

The state's cougar populations have grown about 3 percent annually since 2004 and Division of Wildlife Resources models estimate that there are now between 1,900 and 4,000 adult mountain lions living in Utah, said Darren DeBloois, the division's game mammals program coordinator.

Hunters ended up killing 400 cougars during the last season and 371 during the 2015-16 season, the Standard-Examiner reported (http://bit.ly/2vqbc1G ).

Wildlife biologists calculate the quotas by collecting data from the killed cougars that hunters must show to state officials in inspections.

"There are two management criteria — the percent of females in harvest, we want that to be below 40 percent," DeBloois said. "The other thing we look at is how many animals are five years and older. That helps to ensure we have a good adult component."

At least 15 percent of the cougars must be over five years old. A stable growing population is maintained in the state by using these numbers, DeBloois said. In the season last year, 28 percent of hunted cougars were female, and 23 percent were five years or older.

Wildlife conservationists argue that the current method for estimating the number of the state's cougars is not robust enough, and the current hunt quotas could have adverse effects such as a surplus of younger, less experienced male cougars.

Cougar hunting permits cost $58 for state residents and $258 for non-residents.

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Information from: Standard-Examiner, http://www.standard.net