Mountain Lions in the State of Colorado

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission voted in early September to approve a 2020-21 Cougar Management Plan that allows hunters to use electronic distress calls to lure lions for the kill. This was despite overwhelming opposition from the public and from one commissioner who pointed out that electronic calls violate the rules of fair chase. Our staff worked diligently on this issue and our members responded to our action alerts, submitting written and verbal testimony. There was a small win in this decision, when staff removed a proposal to expand lion hunting into October and November in the Glenwood Springs area. That proposal was dropped over concerns that it could result in hunters killing female lions with young dependent cubs.

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History

Bounty Period

Mountain lions in Colorado were a bountied predator between 1881 and 1965. Rewards for mountain lion pelts ranged from $3 to $50. Historic records show that rewards were paid for over 1,750 dead mountain lions during the bounty period. Harvest pressure on the local population was very high and had an extremely large impact on mountain lion numbers. By the early 60s Colorado’s mountain lion population, once abundant in the state, had fallen to as low as 124 individuals.

Regulated Hunting

Severely declining mountain lion numbers and a sea change in public opinion towards large carnivores put new pressure on state wildlife managers to protect the state’s mountain lions. Within a few years the bounty was abolished and a hunt was created. Designating mountain lions as a big game species allowed wildlife managers to closely monitor, and more importantly, restrict harvest. New hunting regulations set quotas, bag limits, and restrictions on killing nursing females and cubs. Though pumas have returned to many places from which they were eradicated, they now face indirect threats such as roads, human development, and habitat loss.

Status

The state of Colorado encompasses 103,717 square miles of land. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) 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 Parks and Wildlife report notes that “Colorado does not regularly estimate puma populations because no reliable, cost effective sample based population estimation technique currently exist.” Instead, CPW 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 rough indicators of population change.

While CPW 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 censusing mountain lion populations is difficult and, like most state game agencies, CPW does not have precise population size estimates. 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 CPW presented five divergent estimates on Colorado’s mountain lion population thereby indicating that higher quality and more consistent data would be useful for setting lion quota numbers.

Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Colorado

Since 1917 at least 14,066 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 CPW,
  • 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 sex 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.

Mortality Sources in Colorado

According to MLFs 11 western state study of human-caused mountain lion mortalities (1992-2001), the Colorado DAUs (Data Analysis Unit) 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.

With an average mortality density rate of 1.7 mountain lions killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat, MLF’s study ranked DAU L-7 as Colorado’s highest mortality hotspot. 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.

Mountain lion harvest data collected since then has shown that DAU L-7 continues to be a deadly area for mountain lions.

Habitat

Nearly 60 percent of Colorado is considered suitable mountain lion habitat. The adaptable felines are able to survive in a variety of habitats found in Colorado; from high desert to alpine forests.

Keep in mind that although cougars are physically capable of living in these places (based on geographical, vegetative and prey species characteristics), it does not mean they necessarily do. Fragmentation, sport hunting practices, and intolerant communities can wipe out cougars from any area.

The state of Colorado encompasses 103,717 square miles of land. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) 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.

Cougar Habitat and Population in Colorado

A 2003 Colorado Parks and Wildlife report notes that “Colorado does not regularly estimate puma populations because no reliable, cost effective sample based population estimation technique currently exist.” Instead, CPW 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 CPW 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.

Law

In Colorado’s legal codePuma 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.

Action

When a trophy hunter kills one mountain lion there is widespread “collateral damage”

Each year hundreds of trophy hunters pay a nominal fee to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife for the privilege of killing the state’s most iconic representative of the wild: mountain lions. While Colorado Parks and Wildlife records show that trophy hunters kill approximately 400 mountain lion deaths annually, countless more die from the wake caused by trophy hunting. Hunting mountain lions disrupts their social structure and land tenure systems, which creates social chaos among them and causes even more mortalities.

It’s well known that if a trophy hunter kills a female mountain lion, there is a high probability her young kittens will die from starvation or dehydration. But new research indicated that when trophy hunters remove the stable adult mountain lions from a population, it attracts young male mountain lions to these vacancies. Recall Cecil, the African lion who was famously and horrifically killed by a trophy hunter, whose young cubs were eaten by an incoming male. The same happens in mountain lion populations. Immigrating young males often kill cubs sired by the previous male so they can produce their own. In the process, however, females defending their cubs are also frequently killed. It’s not just the mountain lion in the trophy hunter’s crosshairs who dies. Trophy hunting causes a harmful domino effect in lion populations and there is significant and widespread “collateral damage.”

The Colorado Parks and Wildlife and its Commission need to take a step back. They must allow for democratic public processes involving the greatest number of stakeholders to participate and comment.

Stay tuned to this page for Colorado action alerts!

Map

Coming soon!

Library

Colorado Cougar Files Sorted by Type

Scientific Research

  • Alldredge & more(big report), 2014-15, Cougar-and-Bear-Demographics-and-Human-Interactions-in-Colorado
  • Andelt 1999 ABSTRACT Relative Effectiveness of Guarding Dog Breeds to Deter Predation on Domestic Sheep in Colorado
  • Andelt 2000 Livestock Guard Dogs Reduce Predation on Domestic Sheep in Colorado
  • Anderson, 1983, A critical review of literature on puma (Felis concolor)
  • Anderson et al 1984 Status of the Mountain Lion in Colorado
  • Anderson et al, 1992, The Puma on the Uncompahgre PlateauBekoff 1999 Jinxed Lynx Some Very Difficult Questions with Few Simple Answers
  • Bergman et al 2015 Density dependence in mule deer a review of evidence
  • Bishop et al 2009 Effect of Enhanced Nutrition on Mule Deer Population Rate of Change
  • Blecha 2015 Improvements on GPS Location Cluster Analysis for the Prediction of Large Carnivore Feeding Activities
  • CDOW Currier et al 1977 Mountain Lion Population and Harvest Near Canon City Colorado 1974-1977
  • Colorado State University 2004 Human Dimensions of Natural Resource Management
  • Currier 1976 MASTERS THESIS Characteristics of the Mountain Lion Population Near Canon City Colorado
  • Currier, 1979, An age estimation technique and some normal blood values for mountain lions (felis concolor)
  • Currier Russell 1982 Hematology And Blood Chemistry of the Mountaion Lion (felis concolor)
  • Elbroch et al 2014 ABSTRACT Nowhere to hide pumas black bears and competition refuges
  • Elbroch et al 2014 Nowhere to hide pumas black bears and competition refuges
  • Elbroch et al 2014 The difference between killing and eating ecological shortcomings of puma energetic models
  • Freddy et al 2004 How Many Mule Deer are There Challenges of Credibility in Colorado
  • Fulton et al, 1995, Colorado Residents’ Attitudes Toward Trapping in Colorado
  • Hunter et al 2008 Mountaion Lion Ecology in Rocky Mountain National Park Summary Report
  • Krumm Conner Hobbs Hunter Miller 2009 Mountain lions prey selectively on prion infected mule deer northern front range colorado
  • Krumm et al 2010 Mountain lions prey selectively on prion infected mule deer
  • Lendrum et al 2013 Migrating Mule Deer Effects of Anthropogenically Altered Landscapes
  • Leslie 2002 Mountain lion human interactions on the Colorado Plateau
  • Logan et al 2012 Presentation Update on Conceptual Freamework for Estimating Mountain Lion Density with Motion activated Cameras
  • Logan, 2014-15, Assessing Effects of Hunting on a Puma Population on the Uncompahgre Plateau, Colorado
  • Logan, 2013-14, Mountain Lion Population Responses to Sport-Hunting on the Uncompahgre PlateauManfredo et al 1998 Public Acceptance of Mountain Lion Management
  • Miller et al 2008 Lions and Prions and Deer Demise
  • Proceedings of the Mountain Lion Human Interaction Symposium and Workshop 1991
  • Wolfe et al 2005 Suspected secondary thiafentanil intoxication in a captive mountain lion (puma concolor)

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