Wildlife Commission Approves Big Game Season Structure

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The Colorado Wildlife Commission this week approved a new big game season structure for the next five years that includes four deer and elk rifle seasons, and archery and muzzleloading seasons similar or identical to those in effect this year.

The new season structure will go into effect next year and continue through 2009.

The first rifle season will be for elk only, will begin the first Saturday after Oct. 9, and will last five days. Like this year, only limited licenses available through an application process or as leftovers will be sold. The second season for both deer and elk -- with unlimited bull elk licenses available in many units -- will begin on the following Saturday and last for nine days.

After a five-day break, the third season -- also for deer and elk with unlimited bull licenses -- will begin and will last for seven days.

The fourth season will last five days and begin on the Wednesday following the end of the third season, providing a four-day break between seasons. Both deer and elk licenses will be limited in number. The four-day break between the third and fourth seasons is new, as is the requirement that all licenses be issued through a limited drawing or as leftovers, should any be available.

The archery deer and elk season will remain the same, with a 30-day hunt beginning on the last Saturday of August.

Muzzleloading season will begin on the second Saturday of September and last nine days.

There will also continue to be a limited September bear hunt for rifle hunters beginning on Sept. 2, and it will last for 28 days. During the regular rifle seasons, bear hunters will still need to hold a deer or elk license for the same unit in which they hunt bears.

Beginning in 2005, the pronghorn rifle season will begin on the first Saturday in October, with the flexibility to allow some units to have different opening dates to avoid pronghorn hunting during regular deer and elk seasons. Under the current season structure, pronghorn hunting begins on different dates in different parts of the state.

“This season structure provides hunters with a variety of opportunities, while allowing wildlife managers to reach harvest objectives for big game,” said John Ellenberger, the Colorado Division Of Wildlife’s (DOW) big game manager.

The Commission also approved dates for wild turkeys for the 2005 spring and fall seasons. The spring season will open April 9 and close May 22 for unlimited turkey licenses and for most limited units. The fall season will begin Sept. 1 and close Oct. 2 for unlimited licenses and most limited units.

The Commission also reduced to 567 the quota for the maximum number of mountain lions that can be harvested in 2005, a significant reduction from the 2004 quota. DOW wildlife managers recommended the reduction to more accurately bring the quota in line with the annual lion harvest, and to assure that in exceptionally good hunting years the harvest does not climb above the agency’s management objectives.

The actual number of lions killed by hunters has typically been less than half of the state’s current quota of 790, and in some game management units the lion harvest has consistently been well below the quota for the unit. Colorado’s mountain lion population is estimated to be between 4,500 and 5,500, and the annual harvest has been about 350 and 400 in recent years.

“In four out of five years, the lion harvest will still remain in that range, even though the quota will be much lower,” said Jerry Apker, the DOW’s carnivore manager. “But in about one of every five years on average, when hunting weather provides ideal hunting opportunities, the harvest could exceed our objective in some units if we keep the quota at the current level.”

The Commission rejected a request from Sinapu, a Boulder-based carnivore advocacy group, to set a “sub-quota” for female lions to protect them from over harvest. Apker said the lower overall quota plus a voluntary effort by lion hunters to reduce the number of female lions taken each year should combine to keep the female lion harvest within DOW objectives.

“Our management objective is to manage lions for a sustainable population statewide,” Apker explained.

The Commission also adopted a regulation allowing ranchers to kill wild wolves that attack their livestock north of Interstate 70. The new regulation, which was endorsed by a DOW wolf working group that is now developing recommendations for a wolf management plan, makes Colorado’s regulations consistent with those of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The previous regulation had required that the DOW first issue a permit before wolves depredating on livestock could be killed. The federal regulation does not require a permit.

Killing a wolf south of I-70 continues to be illegal under both federal and state laws, even if the wolf attacks livestock.

Wolves were eliminated from Colorado by the 1930s through federal and state bounties. But the successful Yellowstone National Park introduction of gray wolves has resulted in dispersal of individual animals. Last summer, a wild female wolf born in the park dispersed south into Colorado and was killed on I-70 near Idaho Springs when it was hit by a vehicle.

Wolves remain an endangered species under Wildlife Commission regulations. But federal regulations classify wolves as threatened north of I-70 and endangered south of the interstate, reflecting different status for northern gray wolves in and around Yellowstone National park compared to the less numerous Mexican wolves that have been reintroduced along the Arizona-New Mexico border.

An endangered species may be killed under both state and federal law in the defense of human life.

The regulation change also allows the accidental take of state threatened fish species so long as the fish is returned to the water immediately.