Colorado launches controversial predator killing program

December 19, 2016, 8 a.m.
A mountain lion in snow
Photo: Suha Derbent/Shutterstock

Colorado is moving forward with a controversial plan to cull predators in the state — specifically mountain lions and bears — in an effort to boost declining deer populations. The plan is intended as part of a study to see what effect fewer predators has on fawn survival rates.

The Huffington Post reports:

Wednesday’s vote by Parks and Wildlife commissioners authorizes specialized contractors to kill up to 25 black bears and 15 mountain lions per year across two regions in the central and western parts of the state. The project will run for three years, to be followed by a six-year study of how deer populations respond to fewer predators. The population of Colorado’s mule deer, a prized quarry of hunters, has dropped sharply in a puzzling, decades-long decline to about 450,000 animals, which state officials said was about 110,000 fewer than there should be.

State wildlife officials this year did not oppose plans to allow up to 15,000 new oil and gas wells in the heart of critical deer habitat in northwestern Colorado, even though agency researchers have acknowledged oil and gas development hurts deer.

The plan is highly controversial, particularly among conservationists who feel that study of the amount and quality deer habitat is where focus should be placed first, before targeting predators. Colorado State University professors Joel Berger, Kevin Crooks and Barry R. Noon wrote in an open letter to the state agency: “CPW’s plans to test the effects of predator removal are not based on science, and run counter to prior scientific evidence published by CPW’s own researchers. We are concerned that CPW’s proposals are based on a narrow response to a vocal (and diminishing) minority of the general public focused on predator control as means to increase hunting opportunities."

Despite opposition, the plan has been approved and will move forward. According to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, $500,000 has been allocated to begin the strategy and the agency may spend up to $5 million over 10 years to try and understand and reverse the decline in deer populations.