The Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) commission yesterday unanimously approved an experimental study to kill black bears and mountain lions in the Piceance Basin near Rifle.
The three-year study will kill up to 75 black bears and 45 mountain lions in an effort to help a declining mule deer population. CPW’s Jeff Ver Steeg presented staff research that asserts that predation, not habitat, is causing a drop in the numbers of deer.
“When we capture those deer and measure their body condition, they’re fat, they’re happy. It’s not the habitat that’s limiting them, it’s not energy development that’s limiting them. Something else is limiting them,” Ver Steeg said.
The experiment is designed to test if that “something else” is bears and mountain lions preying on fawns. But opponents, like Redstone resident and biologist Delia Malone, claim the study is deeply flawed.
“We’re hoping that CPW will adapt a policy to restore mule deer populations that actually employs best-available and current science,” Malone told the commission.
Malone, speaking on behalf of the Colorado chapter of the Sierra Club, was among about 25 people, including scientists, students and some hunters who urged commissioners to deny the experiment. Opponents also raised legal concerns connected to the methods that CPW has proposed using, which include foot snares to trap animals before they are shot. CPW counsel assured the commission that the study is legal.
More than a dozen people from the ranching and hunting communities voiced support of the study, citing anecdotes about increasing numbers of predators and declining observation of deer.
The agency is slated to start killing the animals this spring.