Should New Mountain Lion Hunting Restrictions Worry Colorado Hunters?

Should New Mountain Lion Hunting Restrictions Worry Colorado Hunters?

Colorado news media is reporting that the state Parks and Wildlife Commission voted to cancel the April mountain lion hunting season and ban the use of electronic calls for lion hunting due to high rates of hunter-caused mortality.

If that were true, it should concern hunters and anti-hunters alike. But it doesn’t take much digging to see that the crisis is almost entirely fabricated by animal rights groups looking to drum up support for a proposed lion hunting ban. The truth is far less foreboding.

Animal Wellness Action obtained mountain lion harvest stats indicating that Colorado lion hunters killed 198 lions in the month of December, 44% of which were female. The Colorado Sun says this poses, “a risk to cubs born to breeding-age lions in that population.” The Mountain Lion Foundation claimed in a separate news release that these harvest numbers are unsustainable, that hunters are killing lions “for no good reason,” and that cubs are being left to starve.

None of these statistics are wrong, but they deserve more context. First, it’s not uncommon for hunters to harvest nearly 200 lions in the month of December. Mark Vieira, the Parks and Wildlife Department’s predator expert, told the Commission that hunters harvest about 500 lions per year between November and March. Sounding an alarm about 198 cats killed in December is like sounding an alarm about Chester Floyd going walleye fishing. It ain’t exactly newsworthy.

That 44% female harvest number is also misleading. About 40% of the annual lion harvest in Colorado is female, but only about 13% of the total harvest are adult females. Adult females are more important than juveniles from a population perspective, and the state’s lion management plan caps that number at 17%. Hunters haven’t exceeded the adult female harvest percentage, and the proof is in the pudding. Lions have been managed as a game species in Colorado for 55 years, and Vieira called the project a “success story.”

“All observations point to a growing, healthy population of lions” and hunting doesn’t threaten the population in any way, he told the Parks and Wildlife Commission.

As a side note, Vieira also made a point to the Commission about the importance of hound hunters in lion management. The number of lions taken in each age class and sex in Colorado is sustainable in part because so many hunters use hounds. In states where hound hunting is illegal, hunters harvest a much higher percentage of females because they can’t discriminate. If they see a lion across a valley, they take a shot without necessarily knowing whether it’s big or small, male or female.

But chasing lions with dogs allows hunters to get a close look at their quarry after it’s been treed. If they’re after a big tom, they can verify that the cat fits their criteria before taking it home. Hound hunting is often described by the animal rights crowd as cruel or inhumane, but the reality is that it makes hunting a far more effective management tool for state agencies.

Deja Vu All Over Again?

Anyway, this story about hunters taking too many mountain lions in Colorado is what you might call a nothing-burger. But the commission still voted to cancel the April hunt and ban electronic calls for lion hunting. If you’ve been following wildlife news, this might feel, in the famous words of Yogi Berra, like deja vu all over again.

We should always be careful whenever hunting opportunities and methods are taken away, but I don’t think we’re looking at a Washington spring bear hunt situation here. First, it’s worth noting that the Parks and Wildlife Department recommended both changes, and the Commission voted for both unanimously.

They decided to cancel April lion hunting because low take combined with high administrative costs made the season an ineffective management tool. It was only open in two game management units last year, which was down from four units in 2021 and eight units in 2020. In the 2022-2023 season, only two cats were harvested; in the 2021-2022 season, four cats were harvested.

The April season has only been around for 10 years, and the regular November to March season is still intact. The department is also recommending that the total harvest threshold not be lowered from last year.

However, despite the relative newness of the April hunt, houndsmen in Colorado are sorry to see it go. Justin Angelovich, the president of the United Houndsmen of Colorado, said he and his members are “deeply disheartened” by the loss of the April season. He acknowledged that the hunt did not achieve its management goals, but said the department should have done more to work with houndsmen to make the season successful.

No one at the commission meeting spoke out against the ban on electronic calls, likely because devices have only been allowed for the last few years and only in a few lion-hunting units on the West Slope.

But a representative from the Humane Society chimed in to voice her support for the ban, as did a representative of the Mountain Lion Foundation. The Humane Society rep applauded the commission for the decision and claimed that the devices help hunters kill more female lions and leave “orphaned kittens to starve.”

The two most recent changes to mountain lion hunting in Colorado may not be huge losses, but the political stars are aligning right now in Colorado for anti-hunting activists. These groups have re-engineered their initial ballot proposal to ban mountain lion hunting, and the campaign is on to secure the necessary signatures.

They’ll push wherever they think they can get away with it, which is why it’s so important to stay engaged. Good on those hound hunters in Colorado for showing up to the latest commission meeting and speaking their minds. I was happy to see about equal numbers of hunters and anti-hunters on the docket, and that’s what we’ll have to do if we want to keep our hunting rights intact.

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