Colorado: District Court Rejects Lawsuit Targeting Colorado Parks and Wildlife Research Studies

Contact: Andy Treharne, Senior Director of Western States

Last week, the District Court for the City and County of Denver affirmed the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) Commission’s ability to study wildlife dynamics in two areas of Colorado where mule deer populations have declined from historic levels. Consistent with the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation’s recognition that science is the proper tool to discharge wildlife policy, this rejection of a lawsuit filed by Defenders of Wildlife will allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists to continue studying predator-prey dynamics using research that will lead to the better understanding of factors that may be limiting ungulate populations in certain areas of the state.

The research projects, currently underway in the Piceance and Upper Arkansas River Basins, will expand on long-standing efforts to monitor and research mule deer populations in these areas. In the case of the Piceance mule deer herd, CPW biologists have monitored this area continuously for nearly 70 years, giving agency staff unique insight into the need for targeted research aimed at determining whether predation may be limiting mule deer recovery. Similarly, 20 years of data collection in the Upper Arkansas has led CPW researchers to believe that mountain lion predation is the leading cause of doe and fawn mortality in an area where the mule deer population is currently below objectives approved by the CPW Commission.

Both the Piceance and Upper Arkansas projects were developed to be compatible with the Commission’s Mammalian Predator Management Policy, which includes substantial public participation requirements and detailed discussion of the factors leading to the agency’s decision to implement predator control. Both proposals are also consistent with important elements of CPW’s West Slope Mule Deer Strategy, a plan developed with public input and approved by the Commission that aims to address mule deer decline comprehensively.

In denying the plaintiff’s claims, the District Court ruled that CPW’s studies do not preclude the use of snares to trap wildlife for research. In addition, the Court found that CPW has demonstrated that their studies meet the definition of bona fide scientific research that the projects are being carried out to provide new and relevant knowledge on the effects of predation, that they are performed by qualified personnel, and that the research design and findings are suitable for publication in a scientific journal. Finally, the Court also stated that CPW’s research do not violate the agency’s mission to protect the public interest in wildlife.

Prior to the Commission’s vote to approve the studies in 2016, several sportsmen’s organizations, including the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF), wrote to the Commission to express support for the research projects.

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