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.

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