Contact: Ellary TuckerWilliams, Senior Coordinator, Rocky Mountain States
Why it matters: Death by a thousand cuts seems to be the long-term strategy that the anti-hunting community has taken towards science-based wildlife management in Colorado. Despite significant scientific evidence that hunting is an essential tool in sustainably managing social and ecological carrying capacity of mountain lions and bobcats, the antis continue to try and chip away at our outdoor pursuits through an outright ban on all mountain lion and bobcat harvest in the form of SB22-031. Without hunters, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) will be burdened with the increased cost of management, human-wildlife conflict mitigation, and public safety concerns. It is up to the Colorado conservation community to come together and fight for continued professional fish and wildlife management guided by the science-based decision making of the experts at CPW.
On par with Colorado’s long history of battling the anti-hunting and animal rights agenda, the 2022 legislative session started off with a bang. Senate Bill 22-031 (SB22-031) titled Prohibit Hunting Bobcat Lynx and Mountain Lion was introduced on the first day of session and would remove Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) management authority over wild felines and ban all legal mountain lion – also known as cougar – and bobcat hunting and trapping in the state. The bill effectively removes mountain lions from being listed as a big game species and bans “shooting, wounding, killing, or trapping a bobcat, Canada lynx, or mountain lion.” It goes on to state legal exemptions including personal threat to citizens, livestock depredation, scientific collection, zoological euthanasia, and more.
As it stands, hunters pay for the ability to harvest mountain lions and bobcats through the purchase of hunting licenses. However, as most hunters know, it’s not an all-out war on cats as the animal rights activists would like you to believe. CPW uses the most accurate and current data to make science-based decisions on season length, quotas, and harvest limits among others to ensure that harvest rates allow for a proper management, mitigation of human-wildlife conflict, and sustainability of the species in perpetuity.
Through the purchase of a mountain lion and bobcat hunting and trapping license, sportspeople are paying the state to play a major role in managing the species and mitigating their respective impacts (e.g., livestock depredation, public safety, impact on prey species etc.). If CPW were to be stripped of its management authority over mountain lions and bobcats, instead of taking advantage of a group of people who are willing to pay for the opportunity to harvest a mountain lion or bobcat, SB22-031 would force CPW and Wildlife Services to take personnel and funding away from other conservation priorities to replicate their impact. To add insult to injury, 75% of CPW’s wildlife budget comes from sportspeople dollars through the American System of Conservation Funding. So, sportspeople would continue to foot the bill for problem animal removal without the opportunity to do it themselves. Furthermore, by declassifying mountain lions as a big game species, CPW would no longer be able to compensate ranchers, farmers, and landowner’s for damages caused by mountain lions through the states Game Damage Program, potentially leading to a drop in social acceptance of the animal on the landscape.
In addition to the above stated logistical and financial concerns, the potential impact of SB22-031 on human wildlife-conflict remain just as poignant. Colorado has seen an explosion of urbanization as more people move to the Centennial State for its splendor and outdoor opportunities, hunting included. However, this has also led to increased concerns regarding habitat encroachment and increased probability for human-wildlife conflict, particularly with predators like mountain lions and bobcats. Human-wildlife conflict can take many forms including depredation on domestic livestock, preying on household pets, human safety, and if left unchecked, disproportionate impacts on natural prey species, just to name a few.
In a 2019 study titled “Human–Cougar Interactions in the Wildland–Urban Interface of Colorado’s Front Range” the authors found that mountain lions were “able to exploit wildland–urban landscapes effectively” with “39% of mountain lions sampled during feeding site investigations of GPS collar data were found to consume domestic prey items.” In addition, a study conducted by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, published January of 2022, found that of the 125 elk calves collared in the Blue Mountains elk herd, 54 perished from mountain lion depredation, equating to 43% of total calve mortality.
As much as some members of our society refuse to acknowledge it, predator hunting is supported by science and is one of the most cost effective and efficient tools in finding a balance between social and ecological carrying capacity to ensure the survival of species for future generations.
While SB22-031 has not been scheduled for a hearing yet, it has been assigned to the Senate Agriculture & Natural Resources. The Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation will continue to keep you up to date on the status of SB22-031.
Studies conducted at both the state and federal level have found that the number of hunters and trappers have been on a generally declining trend over the past several decades. To increase recruitment, retention, and reactivation (R3) of hunters and trappers, which initiative do you think would have the greatest impact?