Wildlife Commission Approves Lion Quotas, Feeding Restrictions, and More Lynx

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The Colorado Wildlife Commission approved quotas for mountain lion hunting in Colorado for 2003, which are identical to this year's quotas.

The Commission also prohibited winter feeding of wildlife in areas where chronic wasting disease has been found.

Additionally, the Commission announced that up to 180 more lynx will be relocated to Colorado over the next five years to supplement lynx released in 1999 and 2000, in an effort to give the reintroduction effort a better chance of succeeding.

The Commission adopted a Division of Wildlife recommendation to keep the 2003 lion quota at 790, the same as this year. The actual number of lions killed by hunters is typically about half of the quota.

A coalition of 13 conservation groups and individuals lead by Sinapu, a Boulder-based predator advocacy group, had requested that the Commission reduce the quota to 300, the level in 1980, claiming the current quota was too high.

But Division predator biologist Jerry Apker told commissioners that the current quota does not jeopardize the state's lion population, estimated at about 5,000 animals.

"Where there is a high degree of uncertainty, we take a conservative approach in our management decisions," Apker said. He told commissioners that the Division's population estimates are based on a variety of factors, including hunter harvest, studies done in Colorado and six other states and Canadian provinces and evaluations by area biologists throughout the state.

In some areas of the state, the quotas are set to suppress lion populations because of predation on sheep, Apker explained. But in most areas, the Division manages lions to maintain a stable population.

"The quota recommendations are based on science, and that's why we're making them today," Apker said.

After the Commission approved the quotas, commissioners Tom Burke, Jeff Crawford and Phil James asked Division Director Russell George to evaluate whether additional research would aid biologists in setting lion quotas. George will report back to the Commission at an upcoming meeting.

The Commission prohibited feeding of wildlife in areas where chronic wasting disease (CWD) has been found, noting that feeding causes wildlife to congregate, increasing the risk that the disease will be transmitted from sick to healthy deer and elk.

Chronic wasting disease is a contagious disease of deer and elk that has been found in portions of northeastern Colorado and southeastern Wyoming for more than two decades. This year, intensive surveillance by the Division has found the disease in northern and northwestern Colorado as well, increasing concerns about the spread of the disease in the state's deer and elk herds. In addition to Wyoming and Colorado, CWD has also been found in wild deer in Nebraska, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Illinois, New Mexico and Saskatchewan.

Emergency winter feeding occurs only in particularly harsh winters when Division game managers project that more than 30 percent of the adult females are expected to die. The Division director also evaluates other factors, including the overall cost of feeding and how much private property damage will occur if the feeding doesn't occur.

The Commission also approved a resolution directing the Division to bring up to 180 more lynx to Colorado as part of the ongoing effort to recover the native cats in the state. The resolution was approved based on a new lynx conservation plan between the state and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that reduces the potential impacts of incidental take of lynx by bobcat hunters or livestock producers.

The agreement was reached because livestock producers said they fear prosecution under federal or state law should they accidentally kill a lynx. The new agreement seeks to ally those fears by requiring the state to inform bobcat hunters and livestock producers about the presence of lynx. Livestock producers then have the option of signing an agreement stating that they have received the information material. If they or their employees then inadvertently kill or injure a lynx, that will not be prosecuted under federal or state law.

The agreement allows up to two lynx to be inadvertently taken by livestock producers and two by bobcat hunters annually.

The Division reintroduced 96 lynx to Colorado in 1999 and 2000. The Division is currently monitoring 35 of those and more than half may still be in southwestern Colorado.

While Division monitoring has confirmed that lynx have established territories and found enough prey species to survive, reproduction has never been documented. Lynx experts inside and outside Colorado say the most likely reason is that there may simply not be enough lynx on the ground for reproduction to occur.

"If we don't bring more lynx in, we will not have given this reintroduction a fair chance and we won't know if lynx can still survive in Colorado," said Jeff Ver Steeg, the Division's terrestrial wildlife manager.

The reintroduction effort is supported by environmental and conservation groups and has won the endorsement of Governor Bill Owens and Greg Walcher, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources.

Walcher told Commissioners that it is important to continue the effort so that Colorado has control over the federal listing of lynx as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.

"This has the potential to be one of the most successful endangered species efforts we've ever undertaken," Walcher said.

The Division's goal is to have approximately 250 lynx and 30 breeding females in the lynx recovery areas in southwestern Colorado by 2015.

Division biologists will now work with trappers in four Canadian provinces to capture up to 50 lynx for release in spring 2003 in Colorado. In each of the following two years, 50 more lynx will be brought in, with smaller numbers possible in 2006 and 2007.

The resolution also directs the Division "to obtain the best data possible to determine reproduction, recruitment and habitat and movement patterns." The Commission resolution also urges the Division to find additional funding from foundations and groups outside government to pay for the reintroduction.

Funding for the continuing reintroduction effort will initially come entirely from money obtained from the Colorado Lottery through the Great Outdoors Colorado program and donations to the Division's nongame tax checkoff fund. No tax dollars or revenue from hunting and fish license fees will be used to pay for lynx reintroduction. In future years, donations will help pay for the reintroduction effort and monitoring of the lynx.