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Lion hunting bill nips management as human and lion interactions rise

The introduction of SB22-031 Prohibit Hunting Bobcat Lynx and Mountain Lion, sponsored by Colorado Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, D- Boulder, Sen. Joann Ginal, D- Fort Collins, Rep. Judy Amabile, D-Boulder, and Rep. Monica Duran, D-Wheatridge, has reportedly garnered a loud outcry from opponents in the hunting and conservation communities.

A mountain lion treed by hounds in Colorado. Photo by Christine McGee

Dan Gates, Coloradans for Responsible Wildlife Management, said bill sponsors and members of the Senate Agriculture Committee have heard significant opposition to the bill from the hunting, angling, and conservation communities on several different levels.

“The legislators who sponsor bills like this on the whims of agenda-driven organizations to stop all forms of management through lethal means or consumptive use I don’t think they consider any of the facts, I don’t think they care about any of that,” Gates said. “It’s not in their equation. They don’t care about how much money is lost, how much agriculture is lost, how much recreation or outdoor opportunity or tourism is lost.”



A bobcat in western Colorado. Photo by Garrett Gillespie

If passed, mountain lions and bobcats would be removed from big game status and all management would be removed, livestock depredation and loss would not be compensated. Since 2019, there have been nearly 400 incidences of mountain lion food source damage reports submitted to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Notably, lynx is a federally protected species and are not hunted in the state.

A proposed bill would outlaw lion hunting during a time of increasing human and lion interactions. Photo by Christine McGee

“The 960 species, excluding wolves, that CPW manages, all need a management plan, they all need oversight, they all need some sort of plan of action to ensure their habitat, sustainability, the ability to thrive and prosper, but what I would consider oppositional efforts to derail that program and that process are looking at it from a mountain lion, bobcat, and lynx perspective right now,” Gates said. “A year and a half ago, they looked at it from a wolf perspective. Next time, it’ll be coyotes and foxes. They’re always looking at it from the perspective of one or two species, they’re not looking at it from the entire ecosystem, which is what they often talk about, but they don’t look at it from that perspective. They go down a list and try to take things off that list and make that list smaller and less relevant to try to not justify the need for human involvement when we have humans on the landscape and wildlife on the landscape.”



Gates, who also serves an appointed position on the stakeholder advisory group for wolf introduction, said he bases his involvement in all conversations related to wildlife management on facts and personal experiences that are related around science-based decisions of an agency that he said is looking out for the best interests of every person and species in the state, rather than one specific group of people or species.

“I want bonafide experts, boots on the ground, in the field experts deciding the fate of our wildlife and natural resources,” he said. “I want experts in highway and overpass construction and roads and bridges and transportation doing the work on our transportation infrastructure. I want experts in healthcare — I don’t want legislators or special interest groups making the decisions on anything, whether it’s wildlife related or otherwise.”

Hounds are used to track and tree mountain lions. Photo by Christine McGee

NORTH AMERICAN MODEL

Gates said the history of wildlife management, particularly through the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation, should be at the table where decisions are made as it is both relevant and justified.

“The people who are opposing wildlife management decision making processes contrary to CPW or other wildlife agencies throughout the country mention the North American Model only when they try to misconstrue it and try to degrade and erode it,” he said. “That’s the best model in the world that other countries and continents are trying to adhere to and our very own people here who want to stop hunting and stop advocational pursuits are trying to degrade and erode the North American Model and have some legislators and administrators and elected officials convinced it’s a bad thing. I’ll tell you what, they haven’t come up with a better thing.”

A lion as seen through a houndsman's scope in western Colorado. Photo by Garrett Gillespie

Gates said avoiding misinformation is key for wildlife management proponents as this fight moves through the process.

“We’ve been put on this planet to provide for ourselves — some of us carrots, some of us beef, and some of us elk — and coming together and realizing the importance of agriculture production and working farms and ranches, habitat conservation, what’s important to wildlife management and water resources and natural resources, everything we do plays into that, and we shouldn’t degrade those conversations ourselves,” he said.

CPW Director Dan Prinzlow said there are 3,800 to 4,400 independent adult lions in the state, excluding their young, which would bring the total to approximately 6,000 to 7,000. Lions have been managed as big game since 1965 and the population is stable and increasing through management efforts. Over 40% of Colorado’s highest quality lion habitat, he said has no lion mortality and is comprised of open space areas with no hunting. The annual harvest is around 11 to 13% of the population annually.

In 2019, there were 726 reported human/lion incidences with 868 in 2020 and 763 in 2021 which he said is relatively stable and not typically positive interactions. Among the most notable interactions are a September sighting poolside in a Jefferson County neighborhood, a March 2020 incident of a lion attacking a Larimer County Sheriff’s deputy and a civilian, a lion eating an elk on a porch in Glenwood Springs on Jan. 4, 2022, a lion euthanized after it entered the lobby of a condo in Vail, another lion spotted near a Fort Collins elementary school, and numerous attacks on hunters and trail runners.

A mountain lion tom treed by hounds in Colorado. Photo by Christine McGee

According to CPW, the management of mountain lions is consistent with state statute: “It is the policy of the state of Colorado that the wildlife and their environment are to be protected, preserved, enhanced, and managed for the use, benefit, and enjoyment of the people of this state and its visitors. It is further declared to be the policy of this state that there shall be provided a comprehensive program designed to offer the greatest possible variety of wildlife-related recreational opportunity to the people of this state and its visitors…”

Carefully regulated mountain lion hunting is one form of “wildlife-related recreational opportunity” as mentioned in statute. State statute goes on to declare the “state shall utilize hunting, trapping, and fishing as the primary methods of effecting necessary wildlife harvests.” We cannot foresee a time when the lethal removal of mountain lions will be unnecessary. From time to time, ensuring public safety will require that dangerous lions be removed, whether by agency staff/contractors, licensed and trained hunters, or both.

SIDEBAR

The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation

Wildlife is a public resource. In the Unites States, wildlife is considered a public resource, independent of the land or water where wildlife may live. Government at various levels have a role in managing that resource on behalf of all citizens and to ensure the long-term sustainability of wildlife populations.

Markets for game are eliminated. Before wildlife protection laws were enacted, commercial operations decimated populations of many species. Making it illegal to buy and sell meat and parts of game and nongame species removed a huge threat to the survival of those species. A market in furbearers continues as a highly regulated activity, often to manage invasive wildlife.

Allocation of wildlife by law. Wildlife is a public resource managed by government. As a result, access to wildlife for hunting is through legal mechanisms such as set hunting seasons, bag limits, license requirements, etc.

Wildlife can only be killed for a legitimate purpose. Wildlife is a shared resource that must not be wasted. The law prohibits killing wildlife for frivolous reasons.

Wildlife species are considered an international resource. Some species, such as migratory birds, cross national boundaries. Treaties such as the Migratory Bird Treaty and CITES recognize a shared responsibility to manage these species across national boundaries.

Science is the proper tool for discharge of wildlife policy. In order to manage wildlife as a shared resource fairly, objectively, and knowledgeably, decisions must be based on sound science such as annual waterfowl population surveys and the work of professional wildlife biologists.

The democracy of hunting. In keeping with democratic principles, government allocates access to wildlife without regard for wealth, prestige, or land ownership.


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