The killing has begun in a controversial program that plans to kill up to 120 mountain lions and black bears in a misguided experiment aimed at increasing Colorado's mule deer population. 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. The plan was set to go into effect on May 1.
WildEarth Guardians, Western Environmental Law and the Center for Biological Diversity are suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services over its carnivore killing program in Colorado which includes the mountain lion and black bear killing plan.
The suit argues that the federal wildlife-killing program failed to fully analyze the environmental impacts of its destruction of wildlife in Colorado, including other native carnivores like coyotes and foxes.
"Wildlife Services is once again using taxpayer dollars to kill native wildlife while ignoring science and public opinion," said Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians. "The public is entitled to know the full environmental impacts of publicly funded, scientifically unsound and ethically bankrupt wildlife killing."
In December 2016, Colorado Parks and Wildlife approved two highly controversial plans to kill large numbers of black bears and mountain lions to purportedly assess the impacts on mule deer populations. The plans charge Wildlife Services, the federal government's wildlife killing arm, with carrying out much of the killing using public funds. Wildlife Services' involvement in the experiment lacks proper review as demanded by federal law.
"Wildlife Services' decision to expand its killing program is misguided," said Matthew Bishop, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center representing the organizations. "The best available science reveals loss of habitat from oil and gas development is the driving factor in mule deer decline, not predation from black bears and mountain lions." In fact, the idea that mountain lions have an inconsequential impact on prey numbers is not a new one. Research as far back as the late 60s has shown that habitat and climate limit deer numbers to a far greater extent than does mountain lion predation.
The lawsuit alleges that Wildlife Services failed to consider the impact its statewide program of killing native carnivores - including black bears, mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes and foxes - will have on the environment and Colorado's unique wild places. The groups are challenging the program's finding that no significant impact will occur as the result of the program's planned trapping, poisoning, and shooting of hundreds of native animals in Colorado. The organizations' challenge also targets the program's incorporation of Parks and Wildlife's contentious predator-killing studies in the Piceance and Upper Arkansas basins as part of its work plan without conducting a thorough environmental review.
The Piceance Basin portion of this program will run through June, seeking to remove five to 10 mountain lions and 10 to 20 bears. But CPW's plan could call for more predators to be killed - up to 15 mountain lions and 25 bears.
"I'm outraged that Colorado plans to kill bears and mountain lions to boost deer populations for hunters," said Collette Adkins, a biologist and attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. "The state relies on outdated and unscientific thinking that disregards the importance of predators. The scientific analysis that our lawsuit seeks would show that Colorado's predator-killing program is ecologically harmful, as well as ineffective and cruel."
CPW 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 CPW sources.
Together, the Piceance Basin Predator Management Plan and Upper Arkansas River Predator Management Plan would kill between 15 and 45 mountain lions and 30 to 75 bears over three years in 500 square miles west of Meeker and Rifle, Colorado, as well as more than half of the mountain lions in 2,370 square miles in the south-central part of the state. The Piceance Basin plan calls for using Wildlife Services to deploy cage traps, culvert traps and foot snares to capture and then shoot mountain lions and bears. Parks and Wildlife ignored a huge amount of public opposition - including the advice of the state's own leading scientists - in deciding to proceed with the killing projects.
WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity are asking the court to order Wildlife Services to complete a full environmental impact statement before it participates in the state's scientifically flawed carnivore-killing plans or conducts other wildlife killing activities in Colorado.
This lawsuit is the second in a series of legal challenges against Parks and Wildlife's disputed killing schemes. In February WildEarth Guardians sued the state agency in state court alleging violation of Colorado's constitutional amendment prohibiting trapping, amongst other claims. Read the Mountain Lion Foundation's article on that lawsuit HERE.
A motion for preliminary injunction to prevent the killing pending the outcome of litigation is currently before the court.
A ruling has not yet been made in that case and the killing began on May 1.
What you can do:
Email the Colorado Department of Natural Resources, Deputy Director Bob Randall's office at Robert.Randall@state.co.us. Then follow up with a brief, polite phone call to (303) 866-3311.
In your email or phone call, here are the points you might want to make:
1) The mountain lion and black bear killing plan should stop immediately.
2) Previous research shows us that killing predators is not an effective way to boost game populations.
3) Colorado taxpayers' money should not be spent on the indiscriminate destruction of essential predators.
4) Instead, we need to spend our scant conservation funds on mule deer habitat restoration.
5) We want wildlife management decisions to be backed up by the best available science rather than run contrary to it.