Beginning this past Monday, May 1st, and running through June is a controversial predator control plan in certain areas of Colorado. Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) has set forth a goal of removing 5 to 10 mountain lions and 10 to 20 black bears in the Piceance Basin. Their goal is to increase the survival rates of mule deer fawn in areas their population is struggling. WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity, however, are suing CPW in an attempt to halt the program, stating it is not based on any factual science.
“CPW’s plans are not grounded in sound science, violate Colorado’s Constitution and are neither supported by the vast majority of Coloradoans nor in the public interest,” said Stuart Wilcox, WildEarth Guardians’ staff attorney. “The Parks and Wildlife Commission’s disdain for the public’s will and the opinions of dozens of our country’s leading scientists is hugely concerning.” Wilcox urges that CPW withdraw the plans and focus on the real reasons mule deer populations are struggling in Colorado, which include rampant fossil fuel development and habitat loss.
Mike Porras, CPW’s northwest region public information officer, says that their study is being misidentified as a mass removal of mountain lions and bears. Although the agency’s plan could call for upwards of 15 mountain lions and 25 black bears to be removed, they stand by their decision that this study will provide valuable information on these predators’ impact on the mule deer populations. Porras states that the predator removal is only a part of the overall plan to address the declining mule deer population. The plan is to study fawn survival rates, which is why it is taking place now during the birthing period for mule deer. Currently, only 35-40% of fawns make it to adulthood with roughly 50% falling victim to predators.
Because it’s a study, Porras says they do have a control group. Two side by side mule deer birthing areas will be monitored in the upcoming years, but only one will see a reduction in predators. Roan Plateau, mostly on private lands such as that of energy companies, will be the area with mountain lions and bears removed. The fawn survival rates in this area will be compared to those of Rifle and Meeker, where no predator reduction will take place.
According to 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.” They will consider the predator control project successful if they get fawn deaths down to 30% or below. Unfortunately, WildEarth Guardians criticized that, “CPW has no site-specific estimate of the mountain lion or bear populations in this area.”
CPW is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Service to dispose of the carcasses. “Our personnel are going to make every effort to salvage the carcasses” and ensure as much of the meat as possible goes to people who need it, said Porras. He confirms that the killed predators will not be disposed of, but rather used for their pelts and meat. According to their plan overview, “cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares and trailing hounds for capture, and a firearm will be used for euthanasia.”
Unfortunately, WildEarth Guardians said that U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services “is broadly criticized for its unethical treatment of wildlife, widespread waste of public funds, lack of transparency and woefully inadequate record keeping.” This doesn’t sound promising for the predators that are going to be removed. Already they are being killed, but a painful death would be most disgusting. It will be interesting to see how this program plays out and we certainly hope that no animals need to suffer.