Aspen Colorado.
 

MOUNTAIN LIONS IN THE STATE OF COLORADO

Like most state game agencies, the Colorado Department of Wildlife has little verifiable information about how many mountain lions reside in the state.

Since 1917 at least 11,130 mountain lions have been reported killed by humans in the state. Eighty-four percent of these deaths occurred after mountain lions were classified as Big Game animals in 1965. Colorado's 2009-10 mountain lion hunting quota was set at 598, and hunters were allowed to kill one lion per season of either sex. The Colorado Wildlife Commission appears unwilling to protect female mountain lions or significantly reduce overall hunting quotas.

SUMMARY: Mountain Lions in the State of Colorado




Mountain Lion Habitat and Population in Colorado

The state of Colorado encompasses 103,717 square miles of land. The Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) estimates that 58,822 square miles, roughly 57 percent of the state is suitable mountain lion habitat. This habitat is found essentially from the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains westward to the Utah border, and in parts of the southeast corner of the state.

A 2003 Colorado Division of Wildlife report notes that "Colorado does not regularly estimate puma populations because no reliable, cost effective sample based population estimation technique currently exist." Instead, CDOW developed its official estimate of 3,000 to 7,000 mountain lions by first extrapolating population projection models provided by studies completed in other states, and then by using information provided annually from "Hunter harvest, non-hunter mortality, game damage conflicts, and human-lion conflicts . . . for crude indicators of population change."

While CDOW officials may use these broad numbers in explaining mountain lion management policies and hunting quotas, the Department's status report also stated that a range of 3,500 to 4,500 mountain lions was more probable.

These conflicting numbers underscore the fact that, like most state game agencies, CDOW is just guessing about how many mountain lions reside in the state. In their 2004 report, The State of Pumas in the West, the Colorado-based conservation organization WildEarth Guardians (formerly known as Sinapu) noted that over a fifteen-month period CDOW presented five divergent estimates on Colorado's mountain lion population thereby indicating the lion quota numbers were based more on personal guesses than any scientific data.

Colorado's History of Mountain Lion Management

Colorado classified mountain lions as a predator in 1881, with a bounty offered for every mountain lion killed until 1965 when the species was reclassified as a Big Game animal. Between 1917 (the first year records are available) and 1965, 1,754 mountain lions were killed and turned in to government agents for a reward.

Depredation of commercial livestock by mountain lions (the justification for instating the bounty) has long been a concern in Colorado. Starting in 1931, CDOW was required to compensate landowners for damage to livestock by mountain lions or other predators. This changed in 1996, when the Colorado legislature granted the Colorado Department of Agriculture "exclusive jurisdiction over the control of depredating animals that pose a threat to an agricultural product or resource." Despite losing jurisdiction over depredation related incidents, the Colorado Division of Wildlife retained authority to manage Colorado's lion population, for all forms of recreational or scientific use, and for the resolution of all human-lion conflicts.

Since 1972, the Colorado Division of Wildlife's mountain lion hunting quotas have been set for the stated purpose of limiting and distributing the overall effects of hunting. In order to accomplish this distribution, CDOW established 19 Data Analysis Units (DAUs) composed of those Colorado Game Management Units (GMUs) which have viable mountain lion populations.

Over the past several years, there has been considerable debate over mountain lion management policies in Colorado, and specifically about increases in hunting quotas for mountain lions. In 2003, a coalition of conservation groups petitioned the Colorado Wildlife Commission to significantly reduce the mountain lion hunting quota, arguing that there was insufficient information on mountain lion populations to warrant higher hunting quotas. At the time, Colorado Division of Wildlife's mountain lion manager, Jerry Apker, also recommended reducing the quota by at least 250, but that recommendation was not followed. The mountain lion quota for Colorado's 2004-05 hunting season was set at 790.

During the 2009-10 season, hunters were allowed to kill one lion per season of either sex. Though Colorado does not currently use female hunting limit sub-quotas, CDOW did experiment for a few years (2005-2008) with statewide voluntary female hunting restrictions. Reductions in overall mountain lion hunting levels and complaints from hunters during those seasons forced the Department to revise its original plans. Starting with the 2007-08 hunting season, voluntary female hunting limits are now strongly encouraged only in those Data Management Units where CDOW has concerns over mountain lion population sustainability.

Colorado's 2009-10 mountain lion hunting quota was set at 598.

While the Colorado Wildlife Commission appears unwilling to protect female mountain lions or significantly reduce the overall hunting quotas, they did approve one regulation in 2004 which required those hunters who actually kill a mountain lion to be part of the hunting party that pursued the animal. This regulation was intended to ban the practice some hunting outfitters had of calling in clients only after conducting the frequently lengthy pursuit.

Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Colorado

Since 1917 at least 11,130 mountain lions have been reported killed by humans in Colorado. This figure does not include:

  • lion deaths from road accidents,
  • secondary poisoning,
  • kittens or injured adults euthanized by CDOW,
  • death by unknown causes, and
  • poaching.

Eighty-four percent of these deaths occurred after mountain lions were classified as Big Game animals in 1965.

Based on a lion-mortality density model developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation, Colorado averages 0.65 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. This equals the eleven western state average of 0.65. Using MLFs mortality ranking system, Colorado ranks 4th (# 1 being the most deadly) amongst the 11 states studied by MLF in reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

During MLFs 10-year study period (1992-2001), sport hunting accounted for 92 percent of all reported human caused mountain lion mortalities in Colorado, with the remainder split between depredation kills and unspecified mortality causes.

In 2001, sport hunting related mountain lion mortalities exceeded the previous years take by 121 lions and 1992s sport hunting kills by 144.

In 2003, Colorado provided a gender breakdown of its mountain lion harvests for the years 1998 through 2001. During this four-year period 51 percent (765) of the total mountain lions killed for recreational purposes were female mountain lions.

Colorado's Killing Fields

According to MLFs 11 western state study of human-caused mountain lion mortalities (1992-2001), the Colorado DAUs where most of the mountain lion deaths occurred in map areas L-7, L-8, L-9, L-16, and L-22.(click map to enlarge).

From 1997 to 2001, these five DAUs accounted for 995 human-caused mountain lion mortalities. During this time period, these DAUs were responsible for 48 percent of human-caused mountain lion mortalities in Colorado while encompassing only 26 percent of the identified mountain lion habitat.

MLFs study ranked DAU  L-7 as Colorado's number one killing field with an average mortality density rating of 1.7 mountain lions killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. From 1997 to 2001, L-7 averaged 87 human-caused mountain lion mortalities per year and accounted for 21 percent of all the states human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

Preliminary data on Colorado's 2009-10 mountain lion hunting season shows that DAU L-7 was once again the leader in mortalities with a hunting harvest of 83 lions.

Mountain Lion Studies in Colorado

In 2003, partly due to efforts on the part of Colorado-based conservationists, CDOW hired one of the nations preeminent mountain lion researchers, Dr. Ken Logan, to design and undertake a comprehensive study of mountain lions in Colorado. One of the problems Dr. Logan faced was the high mortality rate of the study's base-line (mountain lions). For example, as part of Dr. Logan's study, the Umcompahgre Plateau Area was closed to hunting. Despite this precaution, out of the original 41 mountain lions collared with radio monitors, 50 percent were killed within the first 5 years. Eleven of these died as a result of illegal activities.

The following are mountain lion research projects listed on the Colorado Division of Wildlife's website as of May 2010:

Puma Population Structure and Vital Rates on the Uncompahgre Plateau

Dr. Ken Logan

This project was initiated in 2004 to assess the impacts of hunting on puma. During the first 5 years of the project, hunting of puma will not be allowed within a large portion of the Uncompahgre Plateau located in western Colorado near the city of Montrose. During this non-hunting period, mountain lions will be captured and collared with GPS or VHF radio-collars to establish sex and age structure of the population and basic patterns of puma movements, distribution, habitat use, survival, reproduction, and sources of mortality. Additionally, techniques to estimate population density in localized areas will be evaluated. Similar monitoring of population status is projected to continue after hunting of puma resumes in 2009.

Mountain Lion Demographics and Human Interaction along the Urban-Exurban Front Range of Colorado

Dr. Mat Alldredge

This project was initiated in 2007 to better understand the interactions between humans and mountain lions along the highly urbanized Front Range of Colorado and to develop and evaluate effective management prescriptions that may help sustain mountain lions in this human dominated landscape. The initial phase of this project concentrated on capturing mountain lions and placing GPS telemetry collars on adult mountain lions to document basic movements of mountain lions and their use of prey. Additionally, collared mountain lions that become involved in interactions with humans will potentially be subjected to a variety of aversive conditioning techniques to evaluate whether the behavior of such mountain lions could be changed to encourage mountain lions to avoid conflicts with humans. The project is anticipated to span several years and reach full-scale efforts in 2009.

Mountain Lion DNA Technique Evaluation

Dr. Mat Alldredge in cooperation Jerry Apker, Statewide Carnivore Manager, and Chuck Anderson.

This project was initiated in 2007 to evaluate field techniques to use microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA to assess the meta-population status of mountain lions through out Colorado and to use DNA as a marker in capture-recapture efforts to estimate mountain lion densities in localized areas. A tooth will be obtained from all mountain lions harvested in Colorado. The tooth will provide estimates of mountain lion ages and provide a source of high quality DNA. DNA will be analyzed to assess whether several or few genetic subpopulations of mountain lions exist across Colorado and to establish genetic relationships between Colorado's mountain lions and mountain lions in adjacent states. To date, based on 2-years of data, analysis of DNA characteristics suggest mountain lions are comprised of one large meta-population across the western 2/3 of the state and appear to display less genetic statewide genetic variation than bears, indicating considerable mixing of mountain lion DNA across large geographic areas, presumably by male mountain lions dispersing when young. Additionally, captive mountain lions are providing the experimental opportunity to assess whether the quality and persistence of useable DNA in mountain lion fecal samples subjected to the variances of temperature and moisture in the field will allow using DNA to identify individual mountain lions for potential field applications of genetic mark/recapture. Further DNA sampling is planned for 1 or 2 more years to confirm statewide meta-population results.

Food for Thought

Records show that Colorado's human population is currently growing by about one million people every decade (275 people per day). Because many of these new residents will end up living on or near the Front Range of the Rockies the following comments are poignantly appropriate.

According to Bob Davies, senior terrestrial biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, "It's up to people to decide [how] to manage our lives to accommodate these wild beings. In the West, the bulk of their habitat is probably relatively secure, in the public domain--national forests, BLM lands, state parks, state wildlife areas, etcetera. . . . However, there is a lot of development that tends to perforate and fragment that habitat that puts people in close proximity with those large carnivores. We will continue to impact them because more people will be living in puma habitat than ever before in the history of humanity."



Last Update: February 14, 2012

Who Owns the Wildlife?

12/21/11 GUEST COMMENTARY: John W. Laundré, Mountain Lion Biologist
State University of New York at Oswego

A mountain lion biologist takes a strong stand on the real value of wildlife. In this important opinion piece, John Laundré considers the public cost of wildlife mismanagement, and the consequences of bureaucratic decisions that fail to consider the public good and the intrinsic value of wild predators.

Mountain Lion Law in the State of Colorado




In Colorado's legal code, Puma concolor is generally referred to as "mountain lion".

Species Status

The species is classified as big game, along with elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, rocky mountain bighorn sheep, desert bighorn sheep, rocky mountain goat, pronghorn antelope, black bear, and "all species of large mammals that may be introduced or transplanted into this state for hunting or are classified as big game by the commission." Laws pertaining to Colorado's threatened and endangered species do not apply to mountain lions because the law is for the management of nongame animals.

State Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of Colorado is governed by the Colorado Revised Statutes - the state's collection of its laws. Since our summary below may not be completely up to date, you should be sure to review the most current law for the State of Colorado.

Colorado does not maintain a state-managed website of its statutes. Instead, the state contracts with a company called LexisNexis to publish its laws. The Colorado Revised Statutes may be viewed online here. These statutes are searchable. Be sure to use the name "mountain lion" to accomplish your searches.

The Legislature

The Colorado General Assembly is the state's legislature. It is a bicameral legislature. The upper chamber is the Senate while the House of Representatives is the lower chamber. Colorado maintains a single website for its state legislature. The House of Representatives is made up of 65 members who serve 2-year terms. The Senate has 35 members who serve 4-year terms. Members of each chamber are limited to 8 consecutive years in office. Colorado's directory of House of Representatives members can be found here , and the directory of state senators can be found here. Each year, the General Assembly must convene at 10:00 am no later than the second Wednesday of January. A regular session then lasts a maximum of 120 days. The governor or two-thirds of the members of each chamber may also call special sessions.

State Regulation

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission sets the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Regulations. The regulations are enforced by Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The complete list of regulations can be found here. Regulations related to mountain lions held in captivity can be found below under its own subheading.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission is made up of 11 voting members appointed by the governor. The voting members must consist of three members who are sportsmen or sportswomen, one of whom must be an outfitter; three agricultural producers; three recreationalists, including one from a non-profit, non-consumptive wildlife organization; and two at-large members. All members are expected to represent all parks and wildlife issues. At least four members must be from west of the Continental Divide. The Executive Director of the Department of Natural Resources and the Commissioner of Agriculture are ex-officio omission members. The commission sets Colorado's parks and wildlife policies with the goal of maintaining recreational activity.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is an agency within the Colorado Department of Natural Resources. CPW enforces the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission's regulations and policies.

Hunting Law

Hunting of mountain lions is allowed in the State of Colorado. The regulations governing "recreational" hunting of mountain lions specify 180 units.

Hound hunting is allowed, but packs are limited to 8 dogs.

Mountain lions may be hunted with rifles firing cartridges of .24 caliber or larger, muzzle-loading rifles and smoothbore muskets with a minimum caliber of .40, shotguns no smaller than 20 gauge, handguns that fire bullets of at least 45 grains and produce at least 400 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle, handheld bows, and crossbows. Mountain lion season generally runs from late November to April 30.

"Harvest limit quotas" Colorado does not set sex-specific limit quotas, but prohibits the killing of any lion young enough to still have spots or any lion accompanied by one or more kittens.

Public Safety Policy

According to Colorado's big game hunting regulations, the Parks and Wildlife Director or his/her designee may appoint licensed hunters, houndsmen, or trappers to remove a mountain lion by any legal means when the lion is "frequenting areas of incompatibility with other users as may be necessary to protect public health, safety and welfare." Those appointed to head a mountain lion removal operation are drawn from a list of applicants judged by their ability to respond, skill, experience, location, and the ability as hunters, houndsmen, or trappers. Lions killed in removal operations are property of the state and must be delivered to a Parks and Wildlife officer within five days.

Depredation Law

Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations govern the state's response to depredating mountain lions. The policy specifies that, like the state's public safety regulations, the Parks and Wildlife Director or his/her designee will appoint licensed hunters, houndsmen, or trappers to remove a mountain lion by any legal means when the lion is attacking livestock. The appointed licensed hunters, houndsmen, or trappers are drawn from the same list as those used in removal operations for public safety. If the depredating lion is killed, the carcass is property of the state and must be delivered to a Parks and Wildlife officer within five days. However, Colorado Department of Agriculture regulations allow the livestock's owner or their designee to kill or trap the attacking lion. Owners of domestic animals are required to take certain steps to protect their livestock, including paying into the state's animal protection fund. There is a government-funded compensation program for losses of domestic animals to mountain lions, but the state is not liable for any damage when the property's owner has "unreasonably" restricted hunting on his/her land.

Trapping

Mountain lions may not be trapped for fur in Colorado. The regulations governing trapping in Colorado do not list mountain lions as furbearing animals. Any non-target animal caught in a trap must be immediately released with or without the assistance of Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Accidentally captured wildlife may not be killed. If the trap has killed the mountain lion, the carcass must be delivered to a CPW officer within 5 days.

Poaching

Poaching law in the State of Colorado provides some protection of mountain lions in law, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. Hunting or killing a mountain lion outside of mountain lion hunting season or in a closed area is a misdemeanor. The offending hunter(s) is fined twice the cost of Colorado's most expensive mountain lion hunting license and receives 15 license suspension points. Accruing 20 or more license suspension points over a five-year period results in the suspension of hunting, trapping, and fishing license privileges for up to 5 years. Having one's license suspended three or more times results in a lifetime suspension, which may be appealed after 15 years.

Road Mortalities

The Colorado Department of Transportation does not keep records of mountain lions killed on the State's roads.



Last Update: April 11, 2014

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