Will Hunters Retain Cougar and Bobcat Seasons in Colorado and Arizona?

Will Hunters Retain Cougar and Bobcat Seasons in Colorado and Arizona?

With a new year comes new legislative sessions, new rule-making procedures, and new threats to hunting traditions from all the usual suspects. The start of 2022 was no exception.

State game agencies from Arizona to Washington are facing renewed challenges to their season-setting measures, and multiple pieces of legislation that seek to curtail hunting privileges are circulating in statehouses across the country.

Two such issues that have cropped up in the West deal primarily with the hunting of mountain lions and other wild felines.

Cats of Colorado A recent bill in the Colorado State General Assembly, SB 22-031, would bring a complete halt to all mountain lion and bobcat hunting in the Centennial State.

Introduced on Jan. 12, the first day of the 2022 legislative session, the bill also proposes a prohibition on the “wounding, killing, or trapping of Canada lynx.” Lynx have been protected under the Endangered Species Act in the Lower 48 since the year 2000.

Colorado’s bobcat and mountain lion populations are robust, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and the permitted hunts are highly regulated.

The bill was sponsored by two Colorado state senators and two state representatives with much encouragement from a slough of animal rights groups. All four politicians who endorsed the bill are from the Front Range, representing urban centers of Boulder, Fort Collins, and Denver.

In a jubilant press release issued the day after the bill was introduced, the Humane Society of the United States described SB 22-031 as “groundbreaking legislation being championed by a powerhouse coalition of legislators.”

Unsurprisingly, SB 22-031 drew quick ire from hunters and conservationists, many of whom are highly attuned to these issues in the wake of similar efforts to restrict hunting rights in other parts of the country.

Several web posts from Backcountry Hunters & Anglers (BHA) initiated a flood of some 20,000 emails to Colorado lawmakers from citizens opposed to the potential cat hunting ban, according to Ski-Hi News.

As a result of the backlash, Sen. Joann Ginal of Fort Collins pulled her sponsorship of SB 22-031 on Thursday, Jan. 20, saying that not enough stakeholder work had been done.

In a phone conversation with MeatEater, one of Sen. Ginal’s staffers said the bill had been based on data from Tennessee and lacked the support of professionals within Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

“I have long stood up for animal rights at the legislature, and I am committed to following the science and ensuring that we manage Colorado’s wildlife in a way that works for everyone, including the animals themselves,” Sen. Ginal said in a statement provided to a local news station. “SB 22-031 does not have the support from folks on the ground, career wildlife management scientists, and advocacy groups it needs, which is why I am pulling my support from the bill. The bill needs further discussion from all who would be impacted. We need to make sure that Colorado’s wildlife is managed responsibly while following the best possible science.”

Shortly after Sen. Ginal withdrew her support from the bill, two other sponsors, Rep. Monica Duran of Wheatridge and Rep. Judy Amabile of Boulder, indicated their intentions to do the same.

With three of the four sponsors sidelined, the path forward for SB 22-031 has suddenly become very uncertain.

Should the bill ultimately fail, it will be a significant win for hunters in the ongoing battle to retain the integrity of the North American Model of Wildlife Management in the rapidly growing state. But it certainly won’t be the last threat to hunting rights in Colorado.

According to BHA, anti-hunting groups have identified Colorado as a proving ground to test legislation and ballot initiatives intended to chip away at hunting opportunities. As long as the proponents of these efforts continue to win, BHA says, such attacks will only continue.

Arizona Cats and Bears In Arizona, the New Year went off with a bang when the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society of the United States, and other animal rights groups attempted to hijack a public comment session designed to gather hunter feedback on a routine guideline setting process that comes about every five years.

Arizona’s 2022 hunt season guidelines and recommendations are encompassed in a 26-page proposal that touches on the management of everything from elk to tree squirrels. Before any of the recommended changes to the hunt guidelines can be adopted by the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, the public must have an opportunity to comment and all comments must be considered by Arizona Game and Fish Department (AZGFD) staff.

According to Amber Munig, big game management program specialist for AZGFD, early public comments around these changes focused almost exclusively on the hunting of mountain lions and black bears.

On a recent episode of the Blood Origins Podcast, Munig said that hunters were late to the game in submitting their comments for proposed guideline changes. This left the door wide open for anti-hunting groups to strategically voice opposition to bear and cougar hunting, unimpeded by hunter sentiment.

“During [the early part of] this hunt guidelines review process, we had only received comments mainly from non-hunters and non-hunting organizations,” Munig said in the podcast. “They were supporting or encouraging either the full elimination of those hunting seasons [black bear and mountain lion] or significant reduction to those hunting seasons.”

Munig, a 30-year veteran of AZGFD, said that the type of changes to bear and cougar hunting that so many early commenters were advocating for—she had received more than 700 emails at that time—were never on the table to begin with.

“There are some regulations being proposed,” she said. “But we are not proposing the elimination or the reduction of our black bear, mountain lion, bobcat hunting season or trapping season.”

What the hunt guidelines do propose in regard to mountain lion and black bear hunting amount to little more than minor tweaks to female harvest thresholds. These changes aren’t particularly controversial within the Arizona lion hunting community, but they will allow game managers to glean important information from the harvest data that lion hunters submit from year to year.

Munig says that, going forward, the Arizona hunting community should learn to be more proactive and vocal when it comes time to submit public comments around season-setting measures.

“When things are going good and everything’s the way they like it, the seasons are going great, hunters are silent,” she said. “Those comments that are supportive of where the guidelines go, along with those that disagree with where we’re at or are pushing for some sort of change, they’re all important and really valuable to the process.”

The window to comment on the proposed changes to Arizona’s hunt guidelines will extend through Jan. 30. If you’d like to review those proposals you can do so here. To submit your comment, send an email to azhuntguideline@azgfd.com or use this action alert created by the Arizona Chapter of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers.

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