Lions and ire and bears

An e≠ort to kill the car­ni­vores to re­vive deer is be­ing de­cried.

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Bruce Fin­ley

A Colorado push to eu­th­a­nize moun­tain lions and bears as a preda­tor-con­trol ex­per­i­ment to re­vive de­clin­ing deer is fac­ing a bar­rage of crit­i­cism from sci­en­tists and con­ser­va­tion groups as state com­mis­sion­ers pre­pare for a Wed­nes­day vote.

The lat­est to chal­lenge Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s $4.5 mil­lion scheme are Colorado State Univer­sity wildlife bi­ol­o­gists who con­tend the pro­posed killing con­tra­dicts the agency’s own sci­ence. They ac­cuse CPW of­fi­cials of kow­tow­ing to hunters who fa­vor sac­ri­fic­ing lions and bears to in­crease deer-hunting op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“We find it sur­pris­ing that CPW’s own re­search clearly in­di­cates that the most likely lim­it­ing fac­tors for mule deer are food lim­i­ta­tion, habi­tat loss and hu­man-in­duced dis­tur­bance — not preda­tors,” CSU bi­ol­o­gists Joel Berger, Kevin Crooks and Barry Noon wrote in a Satur­day let­ter to CPW com­mis­sion­ers.

The bi­ol­o­gists point to vast deer habi­tat in Colorado that has been frag­mented by roads, dam­aged by

oil and gas drilling and ren­dered in­hos­pitable for wildlife by other de­vel­op­ment.

“We do not un­der­stand why com­pelling sci­en­tific find­ings based on re­search con­ducted in Colorado by CPW re­searchers is not be­ing used to bet­ter in­form man­age­ment ac­tions to ben­e­fit mule deer,” they wrote. “This seems both il­log­i­cal and a waste of pub­lic funds. The sci­en­tific con­sen­sus is clear and com­pelling – preda­tor con­trol is a costly and in­ef­fec­tive man­age­ment tool to in­crease mule deer pop­u­la­tions.”

Colorado wildlife com­mis­sion­ers are sched­uled to vote Wed­nes­day on preda­tor-con­trol tests in the Arkansas River Basin near Sal­ida and in the Piceance Basin near Ri­fle that would en­tail killing up to 15 more moun­tain lions and 25 more bears a year.

If the com­mis­sion­ers vote yes, state wildlife crews would use cage traps, cul­vert traps, foot snares and hunting dogs to im­mo­bi­lize moun­tain lions and bears. Those caught would be shot.

The state’s pro­posal says killings would care­fully tar­get bears and lions in areas where preda­tors may be the pri­mary prob­lem for deer. Colorado’s deer pop­u­la­tion has fallen 110,000 short of the 560,000 deer that wildlife man­agers deem op­ti­mal.

CPW of­fi­cials de­clined to com­ment on the CSU let­ter. They also de­clined to dis­cuss their pro­posal. An agency spokes­woman re­ferred to a 19-page Fri­day memo, sent by four agency re­searchers to wildlife com­mis­sion­ers, in re­sponse to a pre­vi­ous let­ter of op­po­si­tion from schol­ars and sci­en­tists.

“CPW is well-aware of the im­por­tance of preda­tors in eco­log­i­cal sys­tems … and our track record demon­strates our ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the value and role of these species (e.g., the rein­tro­duc­tions of Canada lynx and black-footed fer­rets). We are propos­ing brief ma­nip­u­la­tions of thriv­ing preda­tor pop­u­la­tions in or­der to gather valu­able in­for­ma­tion for the fu­ture man­age­ment of both preda­tor and prey,” the memo says. “CPW rec­og­nizes the pub­lic’s in­ter­est in wildlife and its re­spon­si­bil­ity to man­age wildlife for the use and enjoyment of all the peo­ple of this state and its vis­i­tors. CPW be­lieves these re­search projects are en­tirely con­sis­tent with that re­spon­si­bil­ity. … CPW sim­ply seeks ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion re­gard­ing the in­ter­ac­tion of preda­tor and prey species in Colorado, which it be­lieves will be of value for con­sid­er­a­tion as part of fu­ture sci­ence-based man­age­ment de­ci­sions.”

State wildlife of­fi­cials this year did not op­pose plans to al­low up to 15,000 new oil and gas wells in the heart of crit­i­cal deer habi­tat in north­west­ern Colorado, even though agency re­searchers have ac­knowl­edged oil and gas de­vel­op­ment hurts deer. A re­gional CPW man­ager rec­om­mended re­stricted win­ter ac­tiv­ity. But na­tional con­ser­va­tion and hunting groups did raise con­cerns about the im­pact on deer of those fed­eral Bureau of Land Man­age­ment oil and gas plans, which cover areas where lions and bears may be eu­th­a­nized.

The Hu­mane So­ci­ety has led op­po­si­tion to Colorado’s push for preda­tor con­trol.

“Colorado’s moun­tain lions and black bears are be­ing threat­ened by the very agency we trust to pro­tect these iconic na­tive car­ni­vores,” Hu­mane So­ci­ety state di­rec­tor Aubyn Roy­all said. “We want CPW to spend time and money on re­pair­ing mule deer habi­tat, ad­dress­ing the pri­mary cause of mule deer pop­u­la­tion de­cline — rather than spend mil­lions on preda­tor man­age­ment.”

On Thursday, state com­mis­sion­ers re­ceived an­other let­ter of op­po­si­tion from a coali­tion of wildlife con­ser­va­tion groups in­clud­ing the Cougar Fund, the Boul­der Bear Coali­tion, the Cen­ter for Bi­o­log­i­cal Di­ver­sity, the En­dan­gered Species Coali­tion, the Audubon So­ci­ety, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club.

Faced with de­clin­ing deer, CPW man­agers in re­cent years cut the num­ber of deer hunting li­censes they is­sue to fewer than 7,000 for the two areas where bears and lions would be killed. That’s down from more than 28,350 a decade ago.

CPW of­fi­cials did not re­spond to ques­tions about the rev­enue im­pact of dwin­dling deer.

The agency faces a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem be­cause it re­lies heav­ily on rev­enues from fish­ing and hunting li­censes to sur­vive within state gov­ern­ment, said CSU’s Noon, who with Crooks has col­lab­o­rated with CPW re­searchers on past projects.

“CPW’s man­age­ment ob­jec­tive should be to sus­tain all of the na­tive wildlife species of Colorado. The species most at-risk are large-bod­ied mam­malian preda­tors,” Noon said. “I un­der­stand why CPW views their con­stituency as fish­er­men and hunters be­cause most of their rev­enue comes from li­censes. They should re­ceive much more sig­nif­i­cant state fund­ing. To­day, they’re too de­pen­dent on the sale of li­censes in or­der to carry out their op­er­a­tions. It’s some­thing that should be taken up by the state leg­is­la­ture.”

Killing lions and bears to try to help deer is ex­pected to al­ter the eco­log­i­cal bal­ance across the 3,971 square miles where this preda­tor con­trol would be tested, but the killing prob­a­bly would not have a sig­nif­i­cant statewide pop­u­la­tion im­pact.

Yet Colorado wildlife man­agers lack solid es­ti­mates for the statewide moun­tain lion and bear pop­u­la­tions. They’ve said there is no way to know whether bear and lion num­bers are in­creas­ing or de­creas­ing be­cause these an­i­mals are hard to count and surveys are costly. CPW of­fi­cials have es­ti­mated Colorado has 17,000 bears, based mostly on ex­trap­o­la­tions, with the lion pop­u­la­tion at around 4,500.

Hunters play a role, killing up to 1,364 bears and 467 moun­tain lions a year — more than in other Western states and twice as many as a decade ago. Colorado ranked third, be­hind Idaho and Mon­tana, with hunters killing 3,414 moun­tain lions be­tween 2005 and 2014.

If com­mis­sion­ers ap­prove preda­tor con­trol af­ter agency re­search in 2004 and 2009 found that preda­tors are not the main prob­lem, they could trig­ger a pub­lic back­lash, Crooks said.

“It will lessen the cred­i­bil­ity of our state wildlife agency if they’re pur­su­ing ac­tions that don’t have a strong sci­en­tific ba­sis,” he said.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.