The elusive mountain lion is rarely seen by wildlife biologists, much less tourists, but remains a presence in the slickrock canyon country and forested areas of southern Utah. Mountain lions prey on mule deer and smaller animals but have been known to tackle elk as well.
Zion National Park gets more than 4 million visitors annually — most in Zion Canyon — and mountain lions stay far away from such crowds. That’s why you see lots of deer in Zion Canyon — they don’t have a predator who can thin their ranks.
Something else that you won’t see in Zion Canyon are young cottonwood trees or saplings — deer have been eating cottonwood seedlings and saplings since mountain lions made themselves scare in the 1940s.
Yet hikers who venture into the nearby and rarely visited North Creek area will see a full range of cottonwood recruitment, from seedlings to saplings to young trees and on to towering ancients. North Creek has fewer deer than Zion Canyon, but that’s because North Creek still has mountain lions.
According to research cited by Park Science, “The abundance of hydrophytic plants and wildflowers along streams was greater in the North Creek area than in the canyon, and there were more species and a greater abundance of lizards and butterflies. In Zion Canyon, where stream-bank erosion was 2.5 times more common than in North Creek, stream beds were wider and shallower.”
Researchers William J. Ripple and Robert L. Beschta of Oregon State University conducted the research.