$4.5M push will try to re­vive dwin­dling deer numbers

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Bruce Fin­ley

Colorado wildlife com­mis­sion­ers voted unan­i­mously to em­bark on a con­tro­ver­sial preda­tor con­trol ex­per­i­ment to eu­th­a­nize mountain lions and bears — a $4.5 mil­lion ef­fort aimed at re­viv­ing the state’s dwin­dling pop­u­la­tion of deer.

fort collins» Colorado wildlife com­mis­sion­ers quashed wide op­po­si­tion Wed­nes­day and voted unan­i­mously to em­bark on a con­tro­ver­sial preda­tor-con­trol ex­per­i­ment to eu­th­a­nize mountain lions and bears — a $4.5 mil­lion ef­fort aimed at re­viv­ing the state’s dwin­dling pop­u­la­tion of deer.

While pre­vi­ous science points to hu­man de­vel­op­ment and degra­da­tion of habi­tat as the pri­mary prob­lems, com­mis­sion­ers said re­cent Colorado Parks and Wildlife research per­suaded them to test a hy­poth­e­sis that ma­nip­u­lat­ing the num­ber of bears and lions might help stop deer’s de­cline.

“We’re try­ing to un­der­stand what con­trib­utes to it,” Com­mis­sioner Chris Castil­ian said shortly be­fore the vote. “Our main mo­ti­va­tion is to get to the bot­tom of the deer de­clines we’ve seen. … Every­body is con­cerned about the mule deer pop­u­la­tion. We need to be very sen­si­tive as stew­ards of that. … More science is al­ways bet­ter.”

But the de­ci­sion, af­ter more than a year of de­lib­er­a­tion and de­lay, em­bit­tered op­po­si­tion from the Hu­mane So­ci­ety, wildlife con­ser­va­tion groups and out­side sci­en­tists who ar­gued killing more lions and bears is costly and in­ef­fec­tive.

Colorado State Univer­sity wildlife bi­ol­o­gists, as well as a coali­tion of groups from the Sierra Club to Wildearth Guardians, blitzed com­mis­sion­ers with ev­i­dence that the loss of once-vast deer habi­tat, oil and gas de­vel­op­ment, limited food and other hu­man-in­duced dis­tur­bances — not preda­tors — are pri­mar­ily to blame for the de­cline of deer. Some ac­cused CPW of fa­vor­ing hun­ters’ in­ter­ests in in­creased deer at the ex­pense of other species. Hunt­ing and fish­ing li­cense rev­enues pro­vide 90 per­cent of CPW’s fund­ing.

The Na­tional Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion, a con­ser­va­tion group that rep­re­sents many hun­ters, stopped short of chal­leng­ing the Colorado de­ci­sion but em­pha­sized a need to ad­dress habi­tat loss.

“We be­lieve that habi­tat degra­da­tion from en­ergy and res­i­den­tial de­vel­op­ment, which has been con­firmed by CPW bi­olo-

gists for years, should be the pri­mary fo­cus of sci­en­tif­i­cally based wildlife man­age­ment,” NWF’s re­gional di­rec­tor Brian Kurzel said.

The ap­pointed wildlife com­mis­sion­ers voted unan­i­mously af­ter hear­ing tes­ti­mony from more than 40 res­i­dents who mostly re­jected preda­tor con­trol. Com­mis­sion­ers also heard pre­sen­ta­tions by Jeff Ver Steeg, CPW’s as­sis­tant di­rec­tor for research, pol­icy and plan­ning, on de­tails of eu­th­a­niz­ing preda­tors in re­la­tion to habi­tat loss and hu­man de­vel­op­ment.

“We ac­knowl­edge that any and all those things can have an ef­fect on mule deer,” Ver Steeg told com­mis­sion­ers.

“We’re in the busi­ness of learn­ing. … We have come up with a new hy­poth­e­sis. … Hun­ters did not bring this for­ward. Staff brought this for­ward.”

State wildlife of­fi­cials in re­cent months have de­clined to dis­cuss their pro­posal di­rectly. CPW hired a fa­cil­i­ta­tor to run three pub­lic meet­ings.

“The com­mis­sion’s ap­proval of the state’s two pro­pos­als im­poses a death sen­tence on hun­dreds of Colorado’s mountain lions and black bears, in­clud­ing their de­pen­dent kit­tens and cubs, and the de­ci­sion dis­re­gards thou­sands of Coloradans who voiced their dis­ap­proval of these stud­ies,” Hu­mane So­ci­ety state di­rec­tor Aubyn Roy­all said.

Colorado’s preda­tor con­trol will tar­get lions and bears in two ar­eas: the up­per Arkansas River Basin around Sal­ida, and the Piceance Basin near Ri­fle. Start­ing this win­ter, CPW research crews will try to de­ter­mine whether killing preda­tors in these ar­eas leads to in­creased sur­vival of fawns.

Pro­ject doc­u­ments show up to 15 mountain lions and 25 black bears would be killed each year. Colorado’s deer pop­u­la­tion has fallen 110,000 short of the 560,000 deer that wildlife man­agers deem op­ti­mal.

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.

The state’s wildlife man­agers have 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.

Pho­tos by RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

Bran­don Muller of Colorado Parks and Wildlife stands guard dur­ing a com­mis­sion meet­ing Wed­nes­day to vote on a plan to reduce bears and lions.

Martin Ben­thin, cen­ter, and others lis­ten to peo­ple speak dur­ing a Colorado Parks and Wildlife com­mis­sion meet­ing at the Fort Collins Mar­riott on Wed­nes­day.

Den­ver Post staff re­ports

Caitlin Grant re­acts to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s ap­proval of a plan to reduce bears and mountain lions to help save mule deer. RJ San­gosti, The Den­ver Post

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