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Hunting is a valuable tool in managing mountain lions

by By ANDREW CARPENTER
| June 14, 2024 7:00 AM

Asking the public to decide if it’s a good idea to ban hunting mountain lions and bobcats is no way for a state to run its wildlife agency. We all have opinions, but most of us aren’t experts in managing wildlife. 

The state constantly monitors lion populations to keep lions out of trouble, set hunting limits and promote stable populations.

Yet an effort is underway to ban hunting and trapping lions, bobcats and even lynx, which are already protected by the state. Anti-hunting advocates are working to collect enough signatures to get a ban on the ballot this fall.

I urge Colorado residents not to sign this petition because I think voters across the West should resist voting on decisions that are better left to biologists and game managers at state wildlife agencies.

Unlike eastern states, most states in the West allow citizen-initiated ballot measures to make changes to their laws. But using this format of direct democracy, also known as ballot box biology, means citizens take it upon themselves to make policy concerning highly technical topics such as big cat hunting or wolf reintroduction.

The proposed ban is not straightforward. Including lynx, which cannot be hunted outside of Alaska, is confusing. Another confusing goal of the ban is its goal of preventing hunters from killing cougars and bobcats as trophies, rather than for meat. In Colorado, hunters are already required to take all edible meat from their kills of lions though not for bobcats. States like Montana and Utah exempt big cats from meat-salvage regulations, but how hunters utilize their harvest is better left to experts.

But animal rights activists aren’t trying to make sure hunters eat the mountain lions that they hunt. Their true goal is to prevent hunting in general, starting with a species the public knows little about. If voters think about the ethics of hunting mountain lions, they will realize it’s more complicated than simply banning or allowing the practice.

Consider California, where mountain lion hunting has long been outlawed. In 2023, state wildlife agencies received 515 reports of cougars attacking livestock. In response, the state issued 204 “depredation” permits. Thirty-nine of these permits allowed the cat to be killed, while 165 allowed the non-lethal removal of the animals.

Biology requires that some predators be hunted, regardless of how voters feel about it.

Cougar population management of the state’s approximately 4,000 cougars is such a complex issue that all Colorado hunters must take a course and pass a test before being issued a hunting license to pursue cougars. Last year, 2,599 of these hunters killed 502 mountain lions in the state; if they hadn’t, a much larger number of deer and elk would have undoubtedly been killed by the big cats.

Managing this balance is a full-time job for hundreds of biologists who determine the number of permits to issue based on science rather than a vote.

I’m thankful for these experts, and I don’t want to see them lose hunting as a tool for managing mountain lion populations.

I live in mountain lion country. Walking in the woods behind my house, I often see deer carcasses hanging in trees, evidence of lions storing their next meal. Female cougars screaming during mating season sometimes keeps my family up at night.

Despite these frightening sights and sounds, bees kill far more people than mountain lions. While a recent fatality in California reminds us that cougars are dangerous predators that can kill us, there have been fewer than 30 fatal attacks on humans in the past century.

I support hunting these apex predators to prevent overpopulation. If there are too many mountain lions, they can overhunt prey species and come into more frequent contact with humans. Hunting is a more intelligent, humane approach to wildlife management than allowing populations to grow out of control and die of starvation.

As much as I dislike ballot box biology, the practice is apparently here to stay across the West. But if someone asks you to sign a petition to change hunting laws or your ballot asks you to vote on how to manage specific wildlife populations, ask yourself if you’re an expert on cougars and bobcats.

Let’s not vote to override the sound policies of the state wildlife agency.

Andrew Carpenter is a contributor to Writers on the Range, an independent nonprofit dedicated to spurring lively conversation about the West. He is a hunter and writer and lives in Colorado.