Hunters could see changes to mountain lion regulations under proposed management plan
Wildlife officials hosted the first of seven meetings on proposed changes to mountain lion management and lion hunting in Steamboat Springs on Monday, Feb. 10.
Members of the public filled the presentation room in the Colorado Parks and Wildlife office, with many having to stand after all the seats were taken. It was a testament to what wildlife officials described as an increase in public exposure to mountain lions.
Historically, wildlife officials have managed mountain lions on a smaller scale, using localized management groups called data analysis units. Each unit has harvest limits, which determine how many lions can be hunted in a given season. Recent research has shown this approach did not offer accurate data on population numbers because lions have such a large home range that overlapped the various units.
“Lions are a far-ranging species and should be managed on a bigger geographic area,” according to Lyle Sidener, area wildlife manager for Hot Sulphur Springs who led Monday’s meeting.
The new plan, as proposed, would group currently separate management units into larger ones. The local unit, called the northwest region, comprises an area of about 22,700 square miles, encompassing cities like Steamboat, Craig and Rangely. This region is home to about 1,580 mountain lions, Sidener said.
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Maintaining stable populations
New studies also have shown that the number of female lions in a given unit has a greater effect on the overall health of populations. To that end, the proposed plan would set limits on the number of female lions that can be hunted in a given season. Studies have shown that if 20% to 25% of the lions killed are adult females that are actively nursing, it could indicate population suppression, according to Sidener.
“That is the single most important population statistic in the harvest when trying to maintain a stable population,” he told the crowd, referring to female mortality rates from hunting.
The plan sets a mortality threshold of 22% for female, nursing lions killed by hunters in a single year, Sidener said. If deaths exceed that number, officials would reduce the harvest limit for the following year to maintain stable populations. Exact harvest limits have not yet been established under the new plan.
CPW measures these numbers by requiring hunters to submit all lion carcasses for examination.
How do hunters determine the sex of lion before killing it?
Mark Vieira, CPW’s carnivore and furbearer program manager, said the distinction is easy for educated lion hunters who use hound dogs to help tree the animals.
“A skilled houndsman can tell by the size of the track if it is a male or female,” Vieira said.
It is even easier to distinguish sex once the lion is treed, he added. Males are larger, have bigger paws and a longer stride than females.
CPW requires lion hunters to complete an online exam to ensure they can make the distinction. Selective hunting has been shown to keep female populations at healthy numbers, Vieira said.
Officials also fielded questions from members of the public during Monday’s meeting. Larry Desjardin, president of Keep Routt Wild, asked why CPW implements tighter restrictions on the number of mountain lions that can be killed each year. He argued larger populations could help thwart the spread of chronic wasting disease among deer and elk, a primary diet for the carnivores.
Officials explained that other factors influence management strategies, namely human safety and livestock populations. Recent conflicts between people and lions have raised concern for wildlife managers. In August, a lion attacked and injured a young boy outside his home in rural Park County.
CPW also tries to keep lion populations at such a level as to limit the number of livestock, particularly sheep, that get killed. The agency has a game damage program to reimburse ranchers who lose livestock to mountain lions.
Deterring mountain lions from residences
One Steamboat resident, after noticing an increasing presence of mountain lions near her home near Steamboat Resort, asked officials what she can do to deter the animals from entering her property.
Kyle Bond, a local wildlife manager with CPW, said mountain lions typically are looking for comfortable habitat. A way to prevent the animals from making a home near one’s residence, he explained, is to make the habitat uncomfortable.
Motion-activated lighting, loud noises and thinner vegetation are some ways to make an area unattractive to mountain lions. Bond cautioned these tactics may not work every time, and the strategy requires neighbors to take similar initiatives.
Officials will continue to develop the new mountain lion management plan in the coming months, hosting public meetings in other communities across Northwest Colorado. CPW’s goal is to finalize the plan in time to implement it for the 2021-22 lion hunting season.