Colorado Cancels April Mountain Lion Season Amid Anti-Hunting Opposition

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted last week to cut back on mountain lion hunting by canceling the April hunting season and outlawing the use of electronic calls statewide. These changes passed even though Colorado’s current mountain lion harvest falls well within CPW’s harvest goals, and as CPW’s wildlife biologists point to a growing and healthy population of lions in the state — thanks in part to decades of closely regulated hunting. The new rules will impact the current season when they go into effect March 1.

Colorado has traditionally held its primary mountain lion hunting season from late November through March and a second season during the month of April in certain units. Commissioners cited “low hunter numbers” and “ineffective management results” as the reason for cutting this April’s hunting season, according to the Colorado Sun.

It’s unclear how much these rule changes will affect mountain lion hunters in different parts of the state. Electronic calls were already outlawed in all but a few hunt units, and an outfitter on the Western Slope tells Outdoor Life that it’s been years since hunters have had an April season in his area.

“It doesn’t affect me because we haven’t been able to hunt in April over here for quite awhile,” Scott Summers of Canyon Rim Outfitters says. “But when we did have it, it was a great time to get out and hunt. You could run around in a flannel shirt and a jean jacket. And I have friends [in other parts of the state] who do still hunt in April.”

Still, the timing and reasoning behind the commission’s Jan. 11 decision are concerning for Colorado hunters. Changes to hunting and fishing regulations always draw some level of skepticism from sportsmen, but Colorado’s hunting community remains on high alert due to some recent shifts surrounding wildlife management there. Last July, Governor Jared Polis appointed three new members to the state’s Parks and Wildlife Commission whose backgrounds are more grounded in animal rights than traditional wildlife management. Then, in September, anti-hunters filed a highly controversial ballot initiative that would outlaw the hunting of mountain lions statewide.

Some defenders of regulated hunting worry the state’s Parks and Wildlife Commission could be trying to appease anti-hunters and the non-hunting public while ignoring the science that has traditionally guided wildlife management decisions in Colorado and elsewhere. These advocates point to the small impact that hunters have on cougar populations, which is often blown out of proportion by those who want to see mountain lion hunting banned outright.

This broad vilification of hunters was already underway when CPW commissioners met for their first meeting of the year in Denver on Wednesday. Just one day before that meeting, Cats Aren’t Trophies, the advocacy group that’s behind the proposed mountain lion hunting ban, issued a sensationalized press release claiming that “mountain lion trophy hunters in Colorado are outpacing the yearly average for killing females” even though the 2023-24 hunting season “is far from over.” The group noted that hunters had already killed 276 lions as of Jan. 9, with 198 of those taken during the first month of the season. (That number had increased to 307 lions as of Jan. 11, the Colorado Sun reports.)

However, data from previous hunting seasons shows that these numbers fall in line with past harvest numbers. More importantly, the cougars already taken by hunters this season represent fewer than half of CPW’s 2023-2024 harvest quota of 674 animals. The agency’s cap during the 2021-22 season was 634 mountain lions; hunters killed 486 that season — well below the threshold to ensure the state’s mountain lion population remains healthy.

Biologists work on an immobilized mountain lion. Hunting regulations and harvest quotas in states like Colorado are set using the best available science. Photograph by USFWS

CPW’s carnivore and furbearer program manager Mark Vieira gave a presentation during the second day of the commission meeting on Jan. 11, during which he corrected some of the claims made in CAT’s press release. Vieira clarified that mountain lion hunting is heavily regulated in Colorado, and that harvest limits are set according to population estimates in certain hunting units. CPW keeps a close eye on these harvests and closes units when hunters reach set quotas.

“Our lion harvest has been around 500 for the last five years or so. In terms of seasonal harvest, Colorado has one of the most restrictive regulations,” Vieira told commissioners. “We tend to frontload our harvest, from late November into December and early January. There are lots of reasons for that, including the opening day push, when more folks are out, snowfall, and the closure of units after harvest limits have been reached.”

Vieira also called attention to CAT’s claim that hunters are harvesting more females than usual, since the special interest group pointed out that 111 of the 198 mountain lions killed between Nov. 27 and Dec. 27 were female. This equates to 43.9 percent of the overall harvest so far, which the group called “unsustainable.” Vieira pointed out that during most seasons, approximately 40 percent of the overall harvest is made up of female lions. However, he explained that more than half of those females are typically sub-adults, which are too young to breed and have little to no impact on the overall population.

And that population is thriving. CPW currently estimates there are between 3,000 and 7,000 mountain lions in the state — a number that’s grown since 1965, when CPW first started managing cougars as big game. Vieira spoke proudly of this management work and called the last 50-plus years of regulated mountain lion hunting in Colorado a conservation success story.

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“All formal observations point to a growing, healthy, and increasingly stable population of lions in recent decades … And by using scientifically supported management thresholds, CPW can provide for lion harvest as a management tool while also having very robust populations of lions on the landscape,” Vieira said Thursday. “It is not one or the other. These two conditions are not mutually exclusive.”

Aside from shortening this year’s season and tightening up the prohibitions around electronic calls, the wildlife commissioners did not make any other rule changes that would affect mountain lion hunters in Colorado. CPW did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the new regulations, or their timing in relation to CAT’s claims.

The post Colorado Cancels April Mountain Lion Season Amid Anti-Hunting Opposition appeared first on Outdoor Life.

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