Emotions ran high at a meeting where state wildlife officials presented the basics of a proposed plan that could allow more predator hunting near Carbondale, Glenwood Springs and Eagle.
“We’re seeing prevalence in predator attacks on humans in Colorado in numbers we’ve never recorded before. We’re trying to get ahead of the curve,” Matt Yamashita, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, told the group of more than 50 people at Glenwood Springs Community Center on Wednesday.
Mountain lion hunters clashed with others who questioned the value of killing more of the apex predators to reduce conflicts with people.
The proposed changes, which will be released in a draft in March following a dozen public meetings, would change how mountain lions are managed on the Western Slope.
Currently, the Western Slope has 13 mountain lion management units. The proposed change would turn those into two, a northwest and a southwest region.
“As we have more and more research on this species, we’re starting finding out that mountain lions function and exist on a much larger landscape than they’re currently managing them on,” Yamashita said at the public meeting.
“It’s more appropriate to manage them in a larger scale that fits what they’re actually doing in the wild,” Yamashita said.
The more controversial part of the changes is a proposed special management area that extends from Glenwood Springs to Marble, and east to Vail.
That area could see an increase in the number of lions hunted each year as part of an effort to avoid conflicts between cougars and the increasing human population.
The proposal also could allow hunters to use electronic calls, which are currently banned, and allow licensed hunters to take mountain lions during deer and elk seasons. All lion hunters are required to take training on how to differentiate between male and female lions.
“(In) these areas, both in the Eagle and Roaring Fork valleys, we have been experiencing an increased number of mountain lion-human conflicts” in recent years, Yamashita said.
In 2013, wildlife officials raised the mountain lion hunting limit from about 250 to 350 in northwest Colorado, and the limit has remained that high ever since. But the number of lions actually “harvested” is well below the limit, and the proposed changes could mean more lions are hunted.
Several members of the public pushed back on the idea that conflicts with mountain lions are a big issue in the region.
One man commented that humans bear some responsibility when they come into conflict with mountain lions.
“I’d hate to see guys go out and shoot lions because someone made a mistake,” he said.
One woman asked how many human fatalities in the area were caused by mountain lions in the past three years.
None, Yamashita said.
“So there’s not a real issue,” the woman replied.
“Just because we haven’t had a fatality doesn’t mean we don’t see indications of problems,” said Dean Riggs, deputy regional manager for CPW.
Within the special management area, there could be higher harvest limits, Yamashita said, with an aim to reduce conflicts between humans and mountain lions.
One hunter said he has tracked lions in the region for years, and has seen a dramatic increase in mountain lion tracks in areas where people recreate.
Kirby Wynn, who said he chased a mountain lion that attacked his dog in his West Glenwood yard last year, asked if the officials expect the plan to reduce interactions between big cats, humans and domestic animals.
“The objective of the plan is not to eliminate all conflicts, it’s to help provide us with some tools that we as wildlife managers might be able to use to address some of those conflicts,” Yamashita said.
The idea is that hunting lions would open up space for the big cats that are hanging around neighborhoods to move into the wilderness.
“We are challenged, in areas like the special management area, to have both an effective and efficient and self-sustaining lion population, and human beings in that same area,” Riggs said.
Wildlife officials will hold more public meetings, including one in Gypsum on Feb. 18 and another in Rifle on Feb. 20, to get feedback on the proposed plans.
The draft proposal will go before the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission later this year, with the goal of having the plans in place by April 2021.