The Colorado commission responsible for management of wildlife decided Dec. 14 to approve a program demanding that up to 15 more mountain lions and 25 more black bears be killed every year.
Individual animals will first be captured by U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services employees with cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares, and hunting dogs. They will then be shot.
Killings will largely occur in the Arkansas River and Piceance basins.
The predator control plan is intended to prop up the number of mule deer available for hunters to target. At present the population of mule deer is at about 80 percent of that considered desirable by Colorado wildlife officials.
Mule deer have been declining throughout the west since the 1980s.
Loss of habitat to livestock grazing, expansion of human development in rural areas, and the impacts of oil and gas exploration are considered to have a greater impact on the number of mule deer in the state than does the population of mountain lions and black bears.
CPW has not denied that these factors may have far more to do with mule deer declines than predator populations.
“We acknowledge that any and all those things can have an effect on mule deer,” Jeff Ver Steeg, the agency’s assistant director for research, policy, and planning, told commissioners at the Dec. 14 meeting.
Conservationists and scientists have sharply criticized the decision by the Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission.
Aubyn Royball, Colorado state director for the Humane Society of the United States, told commissioners that their decision would cause the inevitable death of numerous cubs and kittens.
In a letter dated Nov. 30, 21 biologists accused the commission of considering a program that lacks validity as an effort to understand the relationship between predators and prey species and that violates the state’s legal requirement to manage wildlife as a public trust.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife, the agency under the commission’s oversight, relies heavily on the sale of hunting and fishing licenses for revenue. The agency relies on that source of funds for about 90 percent of its revenue.
CPW’s total budget in fiscal year 2015 was about $213 million. The agency has experienced a cut of about $50 million since 2009.
The experimental predator control program approved Dec. 14 would cost taxpayers about $4.5 million over nine years.
CPW said in October that it expects a budget shortfall of between $15-23 million by 2023. It has proposed increasing hunting license fees.
Hunters kill more than 450 mountain lions and more than 1,350 black bears every year in Colorado.
CPW estimates that there are about 17,000 black bears and about 4,500 mountain lions in the state.