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Colorado cuts April hunting season, electronic lures after 198 mountain lions were killed in a month

Of those lions killed, nearly 44% were female – posing a risk to cubs born to breeding-age lions in that population.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife says a mountain lion attacked a man sitting in an in-ground hot tub with his wife on Saturday night. The agency had planned to kill about half of the mountain lions in the Upper Arkansas River Basin between Leadville and Salida, like this one, in the region of the attack. (Courtesy of the National Park Service, via The Colorado Sun)

Mountain lion advocates are up in arms over lion kills in the first month of hunting season, particularly because so many female lions have been killed.

In a news release Wednesday, Animal Wellness Action said an open records request to Colorado Parks and Wildlife revealed that between Nov. 27 and Dec. 31, 198 lions were killed, 87 of which were female, or 43.9%.

That breakdown has opponents of lion hunting concerned.

“Females are essential to population health and trophy hunting of females at this rate is unsustainable for the mountain lion population,” Josh Rosenau, director of policy and advocacy for the Mountain Lion Foundation, said in the release.

Julie Marshall, the group’s director of public relations, added: “Cougar moms care for their cubs for up to two years, so it’s likely that many of the cougars killed already this winter left cubs behind, to fend for themselves or starve. The body count is disturbing, given that all of these felines were randomly targeted for no good reason.”

Many believe most hunters don’t eat mountain lion meat. But CPW requires hunters to field dress any game they kill, including lions, for human consumption. Additionally, all hunters seeking a lion hunting permit are required to take an online mountain lion hunting class, followed by an exam. Only after passing it will CPW issue a license. Finally, hunters are required to check lion harvest limits daily prior to hunting, through this regularly updated online report on CPW’s website. When a harvest limit is reached in a given unit it is illegal to hunt in that unit.

The Animal Wellness in Action release came a day prior to the start of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s January commissioners meeting, during which the topic of mountain lion hunting was front and center.

On Thursday, Mark Vieira, the agency’s carnivore and furbearer program manager, spent considerable time explaining mountain lion management. He said approximately 40% of mountain lions killed over the past four to five years in Colorado have been female, but that among the 40%, only about 17% of that total harvest have been adult female lions of breeding age. The remaining 22%, he said, were sub-adult female lions, not old enough to breed.

What’s more, Vieira added, the 17% kill rate of adult female lions is lower than CPW’s threshold of 22% for a healthy population, which is articulated in its Western Slope management plan. (Vieira announced over the next six months CPW will create an updated Eastern Slope mountain lion plan). He said current adult female lion numbers are “indicative of a population that has a strong female biological engine.”

During the meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to do two things that may please lion hunting opponents. Lion hunting season in Colorado has run from December through March with a second season during the month of April. Commissioners voted to cut the April season effective this year, citing low hunter numbers and ineffective management results.

And beginning March 1, lion hunters will not be able to legally lure mountain lions with electronic animal calls, which was only allowed in two small hunting areas on the Western Slope.

During public comments, multiple representatives from the wildcat hunting community also asked the commissioners to make information regarding female lion kills more immediate and accessible during the hunting season, to better inform their decision-making around whether or not to kill them.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has regulated mountain lion populations for decades. The agency adjusts caps for mountain lion harvests every year, and last year set the 2023-24 hunting season cap at 674 animals. As of Thursday, 305 mountain lions have been killed.

The 2021-22 mountain lion cap was 634; hunters harvested 486.

Regarding the seemingly high number of lion kills already this season, Vieira said, “Our lion harvest has been around 500 for the last five years or so. In terms of seasonal harvest, Colorado has one of the most restrictive regulations. We tend to frontload our harvest, from late November into December and early January. There are lots of reasons for that, including the opening day push, when more folks are out, snowfall, and the closure of units after harvest limits have been reached. So that’s the annual consistency and seasonality of our harvest.”

The commissioners’ meeting comes during a fight over a proposed ballot initiative that would ask voters in the fall to approve a statewide ban on hunting mountain lions, bobcats and Canada lynx and as advocates prepare to present an alternative measure.

The first, Initiative 91, was filed in October and would ask voters to declare that hunting wildcats “serves no socially acceptable or ecologically beneficial purpose and fails to further public safety.”

But in November, opponents of the measure filed a petition with the Colorado Supreme Court seeking to block it, calling it misleading and saying the Colorado Secretary of State’s Title Board made mistakes when it approved it for signature gathering to get it on the November ballot.

Lion hunting opponents rallied with a second measure, Initiative 101. It differs from its predecessor in that it would limit – but not ban – hunting mountain lions, bobcats and lynx, said The Lion Foundation’s Roseneau. Season lengths for wildcat hunting would be shortened to two weeks but still open at the end of December. Advocates say it would prevent so-called “trophy hunting,” by requiring hunters to turn over every carcass – excluding usable meat – in order to keep them from mounting, displaying or preserving wildcats as “souvenirs of their hunts.”

Vieira chose not to comment on the proposed ballot initiative language. But pointing to an elk mount on the wall of CPW’s Hunter Education Building lobby, he said, “Colorado requires the meat being prepared for consumption for lions and bears and game, there’s no difference. And hunters retain the head and the hide for bighorn sheep as well.”

In an email sent to The Colorado Sun after the lion discussion ended, Samantha Miller, Colorado state director for Cats Aren’t Trophies, wrote, “Our comments were listened to, but went unheard, as the number of lions allowed to be trophy hunted remained exactly the same.

“We are encouraged by the elimination of electronic calls and the April hunting season,” she continued. “However, other inhumane electronic devices are still permitted to kill lions like GPS tracking collars placed on hounds that enable trophy hunters to simply locate the signal and unethically shoot a lion with a gun or bow from close range.”

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