By Dale Rodebaugh
Durango Herald Staff Writer
State wildlife commissioners, meeting Thursday in Durango, approved Colorado’s most extensive study of mountain lions: a 10-year look at the lion population, its habitat requirements, and predator-prey relationships on the southern end of the Uncompahgre Plateau.
“For many years, management of the mountain lion was a biologist’s best guess,” Gary Miller, the Department of Wildlife research leader, said outside the meeting. “But since it’s a high-profile species we needed hard, scientific data.”
The only available data about lions comes from a preliminary study in the 1980s, Miller said. Now, under the direction of Dr. Ken Logan, a former carnivore research consultant and now an employee of the state Division of Wildlife, the study is scheduled to begin in November.
No recreational hunting of mountain lions will be allowed during the first five years to allow researchers to establish basic data about the cats, Miller said. The only kills will be to protect human life. Recreational hunting will be allowed to the extent possible in the second five years, Miller said.
The study area encompasses 900 to 1,000 square miles of Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and private land lying roughly north of Ouray and south of Delta and west to the Utah border, Miller said.
The southern end of the Uncompaghre Plateau is probably the best mountain lion habitat in the state, Miller said. It’s large, relatively isolated and has an abundant population of elk and deer, the mountain lion’s main prey.
Information from the study will be applied as soon as it’s available, Miller said.
“We’ll plug anything useful into management strategy,” he said. “We want to make sure that decisions-makers have the latest data.”
Miller said hunters, stockmen and carnivore preservationists support the program.
Wendy Keefover-Ring, with Sinapu, an organization dedicated to protecting and restoring carnivores in the Southern Rockies, proposed a quota on kills of female lions. The proposal was made on behalf of Sinapu and a dozen other environmental groups.
Written information provided by Sinapu said because the mountain lion season opens soon after the summer and fall months when females give birth, many kittens are orphaned. The groups proposed a hunting quota for females, based on scientific findings.
Todd Malmsbury, spokesman for the DOW, said general agreement exists that female mountain lions shouldn’t constitute too large a percentage of the kills during the seasonal hunt. But there was no consensus on what the percentage should be.
Measures already in place can control the number, Malmsbury said. Because each mountain lion killed must be checked by the DOW, biologists are aware of changes in the number of males and females, and permits can be issued accordingly.
The matter wasn’t scheduled for final action.