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Effort to ban mountain lion hunting in Colorado heats up

Hunting advocates ask the Colorado Supreme Court to reject a ballot initiative that would ban hunting mountain lions, bobcats and lynx
Between 2009 and 2014, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists captured, marked, radio-collared and tested more than 220 mountain lions as part of a study analyzing the effects of sport-hunting on mountain lion populations. (Courtesy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife, via The Colorado Sun)

The plan to ban mountain lion hunting is getting heated.

Opponents of the proposal this month filed a petition with the Colorado Supreme Court seeking to block a proposed ballot initiative that would ask voters next year to approve a statewide ban on hunting mountain lions, bobcats and Canada lynx. The petition argues the measure is misleading and the Colorado Secretary of State’s Title Board made several mistakes when the board approved it for signature gathering to get it on the November 2024 ballot.

Supporters last week filed a second initiative, Initiative 101, that would limit – but not ban – hunting mountain lions, bobcats and lynx. Like the original, the new proposal would prohibit the use of traps, dogs and electronic calls that mimic the sound of an injured animal in hunting wildcats. It also would prevent so-called “trophy hunting” of wildcats by requiring every carcass – excluding usable meat – to be turned over in order to keep hunters from mounting, displaying or preserving wildcats as “souvenirs of their hunts,” reads the new ballot proposal.

But Initiative 101 would allow a two-week season for hunting mountain lions and bobcats at the end of December. (Both proposed ballot measures would ask voters to ban hunting of Canada lynx, but hunting lynx is not permitted in the state and the cat is protected nationally as an endangered species.)

Initiative 101 “still honors the intent of the original initiative by calling out trophy hunting as a problem,” said Samantha Bruegger, the manager of the Cats Aren’t Trophies campaign. “Both initiatives really get at banning trophy hunting of mountain lions and bobcats.”

Two years ago animal conservation groups supported legislation that would have prohibited killing of mountain lions, bobcats and Canada lynx in Colorado, but the bill failed in its first committee hearing. The trophy hunting vote would land on ballots four years after Colorado voters narrowly approved the reintroduction of wolves on the Western Slope.

Hunting groups opposed the wolf ballot measure and often oppose hunting bans, arguing that wildlife commissioners, not voters or politicians, are best suited to manage wildlife populations using the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. That model has guided state and federal wildlife managers for more than a century, with license and excise taxes paid by hunters and anglers funding a majority of wildlife conservation budgets in all states.

“There are 350 certified biologists and scientists who are in their position at Colorado Parks and Wildlife to create science-based wildlife decisions that benefit wildlife, species and the people as well,” said Dan Gates, a hunting policy consultant who serves as executive director for Coloradans for Responsible Wildlife Management. “Most people agree that they don’t want the pool boy doing brain surgery just because he has an opinion.”

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has regulated mountain lion populations for decades. The agency requires hunters to take a specific mountain lion education course before getting a license. The mountain lion hunting season in Colorado runs April 1-30 and from December through March.

The agency limits total mountain lion harvests to 17% of the species populations in designated regions. The agency adjusts caps for mountain lion harvests every year and set the 2023-24 hunting season cap at 674 animals. Last year hunters harvested 486 lions. (The commission at its November meeting approved increased hunting license fees for mountain lions.)

Colorado Parks and Wildlife also requires hunters to report each lion they kill within 48 hours. They then have five days to present each killed lion at a CPW office for an inspection and an official seal that allows the hunter to retain the hide.

The agency does allow mountain lion hunters to use dogs and a 2020 management plan for the Western Slope allows hunters to use electronic predator calls in some areas around Glenwood Springs. The management plan says the predator calls allow hunters to control where the lion is harvested, enabling them to hunt smaller parcels. The devices also give hunters without dogs a better chance to successfully kill a mountain lion.

“Additionally, the use of electronic calls would better enable CPW to address conflict lions near residential areas and reach harvest goals,” reads the agency’s 2020 mountain lion management plan for the Western Slope.

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission this month began reviewing a staff recommendation for a return to a statewide ban on electronic calls for wildcat hunting. (The recommendation says the legalization of the calling tools did not help the agency reach specific harvest goals detailed in the management plan.)

Both of the proposed ballot measures allow people to kill wildcats to protect their livestock and property, which is already permitted under Colorado law. The proposed changes to Colorado law focus on trophy hunting, where the end result is not meat but something to hang on a wall. Gates points out that Colorado’s existing rules require hunters to utilize most parts of large game. For example, it’s a felony violation to kill an elk, remove only its hide or antlers, and leave the carcass.

Bruegger said the campaign plans to keep both ballot initiatives alive while “things play out with the Supreme Court.” The campaign is beginning to work with volunteers who will help gather the 124,238 signatures required to get questions on the 2024 ballot.

“We have got a wonderful team of volunteers from all walks of life who are ready to jump in and get working,” Bruegger said.

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