Study seeks management answers

By Julie Marshall
The Denver Post

A new 10-year study by the Colorado Division of Wildlife should help take away much of the guesswork in managing mountain lions.

The state’s newly hired carnivore researcher, Ken Logan, is capturing and placing radio collars on cougars in the southern half of the Uncompahgre Plateau as part of Colorado’s first major study of the cats in 20 years.

“Once we have a better idea if cougars are increasing, stable or declining, we’ll have a better idea how to manage them,” Logan said.

Ideally, he will provide a way to better estimate numbers or trends within the other management units of the state. Each unit could have its own population objective and hunting quota.

“I think the extent to which we believe there are too few, too many or just the right number will depend on the perception of citizens and local areas,” he said.

Logan also wants to gauge the impact of sport hunting on lion populations to see if it is an effective means of control – or if reproduction overrides it.

In the near-term, Logan says the greatest impact on lions is hunters – an average of 375 cougars are killed in the state each year. In the long term, he says, it is habitat loss and conflict with people.

The solution is a “managed coexistence.”

“Colorado is at the forefront of mountain lion management in the West; we are definitely headed down the right path,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Boulder-based Sinapu – an advocacy group for the preservation of predators. “We might become the gold standard.”

But there is one important step along the way, Keefover- Ring said, specifically regarding orphans.

Females are the “biological bank account” that ensures conservation of the species, she explained, but hunters are taking too many withdrawals.

Out of about 3,700 cats killed by hunters in the past 10 years, 45 percent were females. Scientists estimate that up to 56 percent of females killed probably are mothers with dependent kittens.

Research by Colorado biologists shows that when kittens are orphaned at 6 months, they have less than a 5 percent chance of survival. Life is difficult enough for kittens who are not orphaned. Scientists say half of them don’t survive past their first year.

Sinapu is spearheading a petition asking the state Wildlife Commission to set a new limit on sport hunting of adult females.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Outfitters Association, a hunting advocacy group, is petitioning the state for a mandatory certification course that would teach rules, ethics, biology and the natural history of lions in order to stave off a potential hunting ban.

Chairman Tom Mikesell has said that the state is experiencing “an exponential increase” in local and out-of-state lion hunters using dogs, creating crowded and hazardous conditions.

Mikesell says it is imperative hunters know gender and age before deciding to shoot.

“We owe it to all Coloradans and to the resource to take action to improve the education and raise the standards for Colorado’s lion hunters,” he told state officials.

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