Growing mountain lion numbers on Western Slope prompt new management plan
Colorado Parks and Wildlife will host informational meeting Tuesday in Gypsum
- What: Presentation and discussion of a new management strategy for Colorado's Western Slope mountain lion population.
- When: 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 18
- Where: Gypsum Recreation Center
- Details: The meeting is open to the public. "Those interested in mountain lion management should attend the meeting, especially hunters, outfitters, farmers, ranchers and landowners," noted the CPW's meeting announcement.
EAGLE — A decade ago, Craig Wescoatt of Colorado Parks and Wildlife fielded between one to three mountain lion reports a year.
These days he routinely gets more than that number in a week. Sometimes it’s more than that in a single day.
“Now we are basically receiving hundreds of calls a year,” Wescoatt said. “We have seen some fairly dramatic increases in mountain lion activity over a relatively short period of time, and you are seeing a lot of these mountain lions right up on the urban edge.”
Reports about mountain lion sightings near elementary schools or cats brazenly strolling down the streets within municipal areas used to be quite rare, but they now pop up fairly frequently in the pages of the Vail Daily or on Eagle County’s alerts system. This increase in mountain lion sightings has drawn the attention of CPW officials, who have launched a series of Western Slope community meetings to present a new regional mountain lion management plan.
The CPW show will come to Gypsum on Tuesday, Feb. 18.
Yes, the new plan will look at mountain lion harvest numbers. Right now, the CPW harvest quotas for the Eagle River Valley call for the removal of six mountain lions per year in the area from Glenwood Canyon to Lake Creek. One additional lion can be taken from the area between Lake Creek and Vail Pass.
“With this new plan, that will probably change,” Wescoatt said. “To lower the population number, we are definitely going to have to kill more lions than that.”
The CPW is proposing a paradigm shift regarding mountain lions. Previously the species was managed with the goal of promoting a stable population. But with the increased mountain lion/human interactions of the past decade, CPW is now also looking at suppression.
“The reason we are doing this is a human safety issue. In the last 10 years, we have seen mountain lion-human interactions increase exponentially in this area,” Wescoatt said.
Dean Riggs of the CPW Northwest Regional Office in Grand Junction stressed that the agency is using its best research to propose changes to its mountain lion management plan.
“We are trying to follow the science and make appropriate agency decisions based on what we see out of the science,” Riggs said.
One of the things that research has shown is CPW needs to change the way it looks at mountain lions. The management plan public meeting press release explained it like this:
“Mountain lions in Colorado have historically been managed on smaller, localized scales — similar to the management of Colorado’s deer and elk. Current research, however, shows that managing mountain lions on a landscape scale is more appropriate and effective. A careful review by CPW biologists of research studies on mountain lions from Colorado, Wyoming and Montana has helped wildlife managers evaluate populations and set harvest objectives that align with the best available science.”
“After looking at the science, we thought maybe we should be dealing with lions in our management plan on a whole different scale,” Riggs said. “We have been managing lions on a herd basis, so to speak, and that doesn’t really work because they are solitary animals.”
Because they don’t live as part of a herd, mountain lion range is much broader than the Game Management Units that CPW has used in its management plan. At seven public meetings held across western Colorado this February, the CPW is introducing a new mountain lion management map and asking people what they think.
What that means locally is mountain lion management will comprehensively look at the Aspen-to-Vail corridor.
“The plan, as it stands, will likely distribute harvest differently,” Riggs said. “The current harvest quota is 200 lions — from Wyoming to New Mexico. That sounds like a lot but I certainly think it is safe for us to say we have a very robust lion population on the Western Slope of Colorado.”
The population is so robust that lion problems have forced CPW to cull the numbers. Last year, five lions had to be killed in the West Glenwood area. In 2011, 11 lions were taken down in the El Jebel area.
Both Riggs and Wescoatt agree there isn’t a single reason causing the Western Slope lion population to increase.
“Humans always want to discuss the one thing, but there is almost never one thing that affects wildlife populations,” Riggs said.
Increased development is a big factor, however. Growth has pressured all wildlife populations, and as human presence moves closer to deer and elk habitat, mountain lions will also be more visible because they prey on those species.
“Their predatory nature is one reason why people are so interested in mountain lions, Riggs said. “They are a true carnivore, unlike an omnivore like bears. Younger lions go for smaller animals like raccoons and young lions don’t register that a dog isn’t a raccoon.”
People also have strong opinions about mountain lions, Riggs said. Some are very frightened by the nearby presence of these predators, others are strong advocates for lions as a part of the ecosystem. He hopes both those perspectives, as well as many others, are part of the CPW management meetings.
“We really just want to hear from the public,” Riggs said. “We want to explore all aspects of the issue.”
“It’s like any other issue,” Wescoatt added. “We have a wide array of people’s feelings and we are just trying to address this in a good management way.”