State wildlife plan to remove mountain lions, bears west of Rifle begins
May 3, 2017
Despite a lawsuit attempting to stand in the way, a controversial Colorado Parks and Wildlife predator control plan targeting mountain lions and black bears in the Piceance Basin began Monday.
Mike Porras, Colorado Parks and Wildlife's northwest region public information officer, said the Piceance Basin portion of this program will run through June, seeking to remove five to 10 mountain lions and 10 to 20 bears. The agency's plan, however, could call for more predators to be killed — up to 15 mountain lions and 25 bears.
WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity are suing Colorado Parks and Wildlife in an attempt to halt the program.
"(Colorado Parks and Wildlife's) plans are not grounded in sound science, violate Colorado's Constitution and are neither supported by the vast majority of Coloradans nor in the public interest," said Stuart Wilcox, WildEarth Guardians' staff attorney. "The Parks and Wildlife Commission's disdain for the public's will and the opinions of dozens of our country's leading scientists is hugely concerning."
"We call on (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) to withdraw the plans, work with leading biologists to understand the existing science on the impacts of predation by carnivores to mule deer and focus on addressing the main threats to mule deer populations, including rampant fossil fuel development and habitat loss," wrote Bethany Cotton, WildEarth Guardians' wildlife program director, announcing the group's lawsuit.
Porras said it's important to distinguish this program as a study, whereas it has been mischaracterized as a large-scale removal of mountain lions and bears. This study's purpose is to learn about the response of fawns to the removal of these predators from certain areas.
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Mule Deer Population
Porras said that the predator removal is only one part of the overall plan to support the struggling mule deer population. The program is scheduled during the fawn birthing period when these newborns are most vulnerable to predators, he said.
He declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The agency will also have a something of a control group. Two mule deer birthing areas side by side will be monitored in coming years, but only one of them will see predator reduction.
The area of predator reduction will be on the Roan Plateau, mostly on private lands such as that of energy companies. Fawn survival rates there will be compared with a birthing area between Rifle and Meeker that won't see any predator reduction.
The Piceance "represents winter range supporting the largest migratory mule deer population in Colorado," according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "This area has been the focus of research and monitoring efforts since the late 1940s and represents one of the best documented mule deer populations in North America."
Colorado Parks and Wildlife said that recent newborn fawn survival rates in the Piceance Basin have been relatively low, at 35 percent to 40 percent. The agency cites predators as killing at least 50 percent of the fawns Colorado Parks and Wildlife has collared.
Still "managers have been unable to confirm whether predation is limiting overall fawn survival or fawns dying from predation are weaker, on average, and would otherwise likely have died prior to adulthood," according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
The agency will consider this predator control project successful if it can get that percentage of fawn deaths down to 30 percent or lower and can document an increased survival rate for fawns.
"Predator control efforts will focus on black bears and mountain lions because these species have been connected to predation of at least 25 percent of the collared fawns monitored since 2011," according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.
WildEarth Guardians also criticized that Colorado Parks and Wildlife "has no site-specific estimate of the mountain lion or bear populations in this area."
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is enlisting the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services, which will employ various methods to remove the animals.
"Our personnel are going to make every effort to salvage the carcases" and ensure as much of the meat as possible goes to people who need it, said Porras. Where possible, those animals will not be disposed of; rather, the carcases and pelts will be used for education and the meat for consumption.
The methods used will include "cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares and trailing hounds for capture, and a firearm will be used for euthanasia," according to a plan overview.
WildEarth Guardians said that Wildlife Services "is broadly criticized for its unethical treatment of wildlife, widespread waste of public funds, lack of transparency and woefully inadequate record keeping."
Colorado Parks and Wildlife might also take information produced from this program and apply it to management across the western third of the state, as the Piceance Basin has similar conditions as other mule deer habitat in Western Colorado.