Despite opposition CPW approves predator study | VailDaily.com

Despite opposition CPW approves predator study

Alex Zorn
azorn@citizentelegram.com

Mountain lions and bears will be killed in specified numbers in a study to see if doing so helps mule deer populations.

With the population of mule deer declining in western Colorado, Parks and Wildlife has decided to move forward with a controversial predator control program despite criticism from conservation organizations throughout the state.

"Many different factors have impacted population, but we believe predation is one of them," said Mike Porras, public information officer with CPW's Northwest Region. "To test this theory, we are going to move forward with the study."

The plan is to kill five to 10 mountain lions and 10 to 20 black bears to see if that has an effect on mule deer population. Predators will be killed in the Piceance Basin and Upper Arkansas River.

In 2012, deer population estimates were more than 100,000 below the current statewide objective, according to CPW.

"Our intention is to gain research knowledge," Porras said. "Family units will not be put down, only single animals will be killed. We intend to learn quite a bit from this study."

Porras added that the agency is aware of the variety of factors that may be affecting the mule deer population, but believes that predation is an important factor, and the study will help determine future management strategies. He pointed to the fact that there are higher winter fawn weights, survival and low starvation frequency among the deer as evidence that other factors like food limitation, habitat loss and human-induced disturbance are not to blame for the low numbers.

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"Our job is to enhance wildlife in the state of Colorado; we all want the same thing," he said. "This will be an ongoing research study in the Piceance Basin."

Fawn survival will be monitored on two adjacent birthing areas over the next three years, one receiving predator reduction and the other without any predator reduction efforts. The predator control group will be focused on a relatively small area on the Roan Plateau and an area that predator control is not used will be to the east between Meeker and Rifle.

The predator killing will begin in May 2017, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services will be contracted to hunt mountain lions and black bears using trailing hounds, cage traps, culvert traps and foot snares to capture animals that will then be shot. The program will make every effort to salvage all black bear and cougar carcasses, and the meat will be donated.

Conservation groups are concerned about the plan.

A letter addressed to CPW condemning the predator control program was signed by several conservation organizations throughout the state, including the Center for Biological Diversity, the Humane Society and more.

"Most of our disagreement comes from our sense that is not based on sound science," said Will Roush, conservation director at the Wilderness Workshop. "There's very little science that shows predator control does much to help the survival of young animals. We just feel it is the wrong solution if they are worried about deer population."

Roush pointed to another letter submitted by three professors at Colorado State University in which they state, "Before proposing a management action not supported by science, CPW should be directing its research to other more relevant questions."

Professors Joel Berger, Kevin Crooks and Barry R. Noon signed the letter.

Roush believes that CPW could much more productively spend the $4.5 million of taxpayer money for this study by figuring out how to reduce the impacts from residential and energy development. Roush would rather see that money go to other research rather than studying the "19th century method of predator control."