Monthly Archives: April 2004

Officials seek public input on mountain lions

By Kevin Darst
Loveland Reporter-Herald Staff Writer

State wildlife officials want public input about mountain lion management along the Northern Front Range.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife will conduct two open-house meetings Tuesday and Thursday to get those public comments as it reviews its lion management between Denver and Fort Collins.

One basic question the agency wants answered is whether residents want more or fewer lions.

Like elk, deer and bears, mountain lions are considered a big-game species in Colorado, and the Division of Wildlife reviews big-game management plans every five to 10 years.

Mountain lion season runs from Jan. 1 to March 31 and again from November to Dec. 31.

In 1967, the first year of licensed lion hunting, hunters killed 58 lions, according to the division. That number dipped to 29 lions killed in 1971 and increased to 370 killed statewide in 2003. State rules allow hunters to kill 800 mountain lions each year.

Hunters took 42 mountain lions in 2003 in Larimer County and north Boulder County, nearly double the 11-year average, said Mark Vieira, a Division of Wildlife terrestrial biologist in the Fort Collins area.

Wildlife managers don’t know how many lions are in Colorado, though they project the population at between 3,000 and 7,000 lions.

Compared with elk and deer, lions’ low density, secrecy and solitary nature make them hard to count accurately, Vieira said.

Helicopters make it easier for wildlife managers to count herds of deer and elk, but lions, which don’t travel in packs and blend in with their terrain, are tougher to spot.

“One lion on a hillside, you could fly over it five times and not see it,” Vieira said.

New methods, however, could lead to better counts, Vieira said. The agency’s draft management plan will include updated lion population estimates in Colorado, he said.

The division recently hired Ken Logan, a mountain lion expert, to do a 10-year population study of the animals on the Western Slope.

“In the absence of data, we have to be very careful about how we manage lions,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of carnivore protection for Sinapu, a Boulder wildlife advocacy group. She said the division has relied too much on hunting-industry estimates of the state’s mountain lion population.

Keefover-Ring wants the DOW to protect female lions, which “apprentice” their kittens for 11 to 16 months, she said. Killing a female mountain lion leaves two or three orphan kittens, she said.

“We want them to be conservative in their management,” Keefover-Ring said.

She’s pushing the division to establish hunt-free refuge zones for the cats, which would serve as a population source.

“That way, we always have a safety net,” Keefover-Ring said.

If you go:

The Colorado Division of Wildlife will conduct two meetings in April as it develops a plan to manage mountain lions along the Northern Front Range.

• Tuesday, 6-9 p.m., Fort Collins Holiday Inn, 425 W. Prospect Ave.

• Thursday, 6-9 p.m., DOW Hunter Safety Building, 6060 Broadway, Denver, behind the agency’s headquarters.

Both meetings will have an open-house format.

Mountain lyin'

By Gary Wockner
Rocky Mountain News

Another fatal mountain lion attack.

Catch your attention? That’s the point. The truth, on the other hand, is, as always, a different story.

News of the dreaded BEAST has swirled in the media for the past several months.

It started with a fatal mountain lion attack in California last fall. The recent publication and wide review of David Baron’s book, The Beast in the Garden, fueled the fire. Like the media reports of the California mauling, Baron’s book and its reviews paint a ridiculous, grossly exaggerated, paranoid portrait of human encounters with mountain lions.

Much of Baron’s book discusses mountain lions in Boulder and the fatal attack nearby in Idaho Springs in 1991. For the record, exactly two people have been tragically killed by mountain lions in Colorado in recorded history – the first in Idaho Springs, the second in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1997.

That’s a grand total of two people out of about 4.5 million Coloradans. If we generalize over that 13-year period, the odds of getting killed by a mountain lion in any one year are roughly one in 29 million.

Here’s a little perspective: According to the state of Colorado’s 2002 vital statistics, the odds of dying of a heart attack or stroke are 1 in 500, of cancer are 1 in 750, in a car wreck are 1 in 7,500, of suicide are 1 in 7,500, of drugs/alcohol are 1 in 10,000, with a gun (murder or accidental) are 1 in 10,000. The odds of dying of a work-related injury are 1 in 50,000.

After all that, going for a hike in lion country doesn’t look so bad, and certainly looks better than going to work.

I spent 10 years hiking, running and mountain biking in those Boulder mountains almost every day. I never saw one mountain lion, and never even saw a mountain lion track. I had friends who saw mountain lions. One friend walked up on a mountain lion eating a deer, and the lion sat licking its bloody lips and didn’t even look at my friend 30 feet away.

I have another friend – a wildlife biologist – who tracks, traps and collars mountain lions for the Colorado Division of Wildlife along the Front Range. She hires a houndsman with lion-sniffing bloodhounds and a professional tracker, and they sometimes spend days and weeks without even seeing a mountain lion.

When they do find one, it’s the mountain lion that’s paranoid and frightened. Later, when she goes out to study the collared lions’ deer-kills, she actually walks up, alone and unarmed, with a global positioning system receiver and watches the blip-blip on the GPS screen of the lion frantically racing away over the nearest ridge. She rarely sees them with her eyes.

I imagine a mountain lion jumping on my back, its fangs diving into my neck, its claws clinching in a death-grip. Then I imagine being slowly eaten. What a horrifying image.

Of course, it’s less likely than being struck by lightning (1 in 350,000) or winning the lottery (1 in 150,000), but it sure makes great news, and a great read. It keeps you on the same TV channel and keeps you turning pages of a book.

I have another friend I call “The Skeptic.” He, too, is tired of mountain lion paranoia, and so he set out to prove a point. Last fall he found a road-killed deer, sliced it into pieces, and tied several deer chunks together with rope. Then he chopped off parts of the hide and carved it into a makeshift coat. A day later, he put on his deer coat, slung the meat-rope around his shoulders, and slathered deer blood on his body.

At about 4 p.m., he walked out into the Boulder mountains intent on seeing a mountain lion. Earlier, he had practiced making the sound of an injured deer, and as he hiked he whimpered and whined. As dusk came and no lion appeared, The Skeptic became more intent.

He rambled through the brush, off-trail-running and bleating loudly. Dark came, hours went by, still no lion, and my friend became obsessed. He wandered through the night, bleating and whining, and at one point started calling out, “Here kitty, kitty!” while flailing through the forest.

At 8:30 the next morning, a jogger on the Mesa Trail found my friend. He was delirious and sleep-deprived. He still hadn’t seen a mountain lion.

Quite a story. Ridiculous and grossly exaggerated, too. That’s the point. It’s fun, it kept you reading, and the odds are (the publisher assures me) 2-to-1 that you will keep turning the pages. The truth is a different story, as always.

Gary Wockner is a wildlife ecologist and writer in Fort Collins. He can be reached at http://www.garywockner.com.