Division of Wildlife to Begin Mountain Lion Study
The largest mountain lion study ever conducted in Colorado will begin this fall on western Colorado’s Uncompahgre Plateau, and will be led by a Colorado Division of Wildlife researcher recognized as one of North America’s top authorities on the big cats.
Lions will be captured, sampled, tagged and tracked for 10 years to learn more about their populations, movements, prey, interactions with people and domestic animals, and the effects of hunting. An additional focus of the study will be to test tools that managers can use to estimate lion numbers.
“The DOW’s wildlife managers want information that improves our understanding of how puma populations respond to hunting, puma habitat needs, and their role in the ecology of prey species,” said Ken Logan, the researcher hired last year to conduct the study.
"And because of the rapid pace of development in Colorado, wildlife managers want to better understand human/puma interactions and how best to manage them,” Logan added.
“If we are successful, managers will have new information and new tools that will help them in the long-term management of pumas, including lion hunting, human safety and damage to domestic animals,” Logan said.
The 10-year experiment will initially focus on the southern halves of game management units 61 and 62, and the northern edge of unit 70 southwest of Montrose. During the first five years, lion hunting will be prohibited in the study area and collared lions will be protected except when they threaten human safety or threaten livestock. In the subsequent five years, hunting will resume to reduce population under controlled conditions.
“Studying the puma population under both management scenarios will allow us to better understand the impacts hunting has on the lion population and to evaluate the reliability of population estimation tools,” Logan said. “The DOW wants the best science-based management of pumas possible and this study will help reach that goal.”
This fall, Logan and his research team will use trained dog teams, cage traps and foot snares to capture lions. Each captured lion will be tranquilized, and then blood, skin and hair samples will be taken for DNA genotyping. The lion will then receive an ear tag and be fitted with a collar containing two tiny transmitters. One transmitter will send a signal that will be picked up by DOW aircraft flying over the study area. The second will allow satellite tracking.
Logan, working with other scientists, completed a study last year of lion behavior around people in southern California. Previously, he and his colleague and wife, Linda Sweanor, completed a long-term study of mountain lions for the state of New Mexico.
Both studies were recognized across North America as important work providing new understandings of North America’s second-largest wild cat. The Uncompahgre Plateau was chosen as the study site because it contains many of the elements found in the rest of Colorado: a large amount of public land; high-quality wildlife habitat; a relatively low level of lion predation on livestock; and increasing human development. Logan said another important factor is an ongoing DOW study on mule deer survival.
The last major mountain lion study in Colorado was conducted in the same area by DOW researcher Allen Anderson in the 1980s.
Local cooperation and support for the lion study has been excellent, Logan said.
“I cannot say enough about the need for cooperation from the private landowners and the ranchers and hunters who operate on the Uncompahgre Plateau,” Logan emphasized. “Their support of our efforts will be key to our success.”
The DOW will release periodic reports on the study to keep the Wildlife Commission and Colorado citizens informed about what researchers are learning. Logan said the DOW is also considering a study within the next two years focusing on how lions behave around people on the Front Range. Start up of the project depends on funding that becomes available for the effort, he said.