This story first appeared in The Outsider, the premium outdoor newsletter by Jason Blevins.
In it, he covers the industry from the inside out, plus the fun side of being outdoors in our beautiful state.
After Colorado lawmakers last year rejected a proposal to ban mountain lion hunting, animal rights advocates are planning to ask voters to end wildcat hunting.
A proposed ballot measure for the November 2024 ballot would prohibit hunting, trapping, using dogs or electronic devices to hunt mountain lions, bobcats or Canadian lynx.
The proposal asks voters to declare that hunting wildcats “serves no socially acceptable or ecologically beneficial purpose and fails to further public safety.”
Julie Marshall, the communications coordinator at the Center for a Humane Economy, said the ballot initiative proposal is “Colorado-centered” but has support from about 50 state and national animal advocacy groups.
Marshall said most bobcat trapping in Colorado and the West is for pelts that are sent to Russia and China. California has prevented mountain lion hunting since 1972 and since 1990 the state protects the wildcats as a nongame species. In 2015, California banned trapping of bobcats. In 2020, the state banned bobcat hunting. (The ballot measure includes protections for Canadian lynx, which are endangered. Colorado Parks and Wildlife reintroduced lynx in the late 1990s but advocates suspect they are occasionally injured or killed by hunters or trappers thinking they are bobcats, Marshall said.)
“The North American Model for Wildlife Conservation says you are not supposed to kill wildlife for commerce and that’s exactly what’s being done in Colorado. It’s giving all ethical and fair chase hunting a black eye,” Marshall said.
The coalition soon will begin training people to help gather more than 124,000 signatures from Colorado residents to get the proposed ban on the 2024 ballot.
Marshall said the signature gathering will include an educational campaign with information about wildcat hunting. Colorado Parks and Wildlife estimates there are between 3,000 and 7,000 mountain lions in Colorado.
In an email, Marshall forwarded links to online videos posted by hunters using dogs to tree large cats and then shooting them.
“We feel that a large majority of Coloradans have not been able to learn about what is happening to our wildcats and our woodlands,” she said.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife commissioners in January 2021 approved rules allowing hunters in about nine hunting units to use electronic calling devices to lure mountain lions with the sounds of dying critters. Since 2007, the agency requires that cat hunters take an education course and test to make sure they can identify a lion’s gender in an attempt to reduce the number of females killed. Harvesting too many females can have long-term impacts on an area’s lion population. All hunters must harvest the meat from mountain lions they kill.
In January 2022, animal welfare groups worked with four Front Range lawmakers to propose a law — Senate Bill 31 — that banned hunting of wildcats. The bill riled hunters and opponents flooded lawmakers with emails. Three of the bill’s top sponsors pulled their support before the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources rejected the legislation in February 2022.
In 2020, the Humane Society of the United States conducted two surveys of 3,300 Colorado voters showing strong opposition to mountain lion hunting. The group’s July 2020 survey of 1,800 voters found 69% opposed hunting mountain lions and 23% supported. A December 2022 survey showed similar responses by voters who were asked about killing wildcats to prevent conflicts with people and livestock.
In 2005, Colorado Parks and Wildlife surveyed 1,300 residents and found 47% supporting legal and regulated hunting of mountain lions and 41% opposed. About 46% of respondents to that survey disagreed that hunting mountain lions should be banned while 34% supported a ban.
A 2022 survey of 462 Colorado residents by Colorado State University researchers for the mountain lion advocacy group The Summerlee Foundation showed 67% strongly agreeing with the idea that mountain lions should not be harmed by humans without cause. That survey also showed an even split — 40.6% — between residents who approve and disapprove of mountain lion hunting, with 19% saying they did not have any opinion. but a large majority said they did not like the idea of using dogs or electronic devices to hunt wildcats.
In 1980, Colorado hunters killed 81 mountain lions. In 2021-22, 2,493 hunters spent 1,826 days hunting mountain lions and killed 486 animals, down from a 10-year high of 515 in 2020-21. The agency adjusts caps for mountain lion harvests every year, with the 2023-24 hunting season capped at 674 animals.
Bryan Jones with the 1,800-member of the Colorado chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers said his group is working with the Colorado Wildlife Conservation Project on a response to the proposed ballot initiative.
The 30,000-member Backcountry Hunters and Anglers does not support any wildlife management policy through legislation or voter initiatives. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that has guided the country’s wildlife management for more than a century with partnerships between states and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is based on “the best science available.” The model considers wildlife as natural resources that should be managed by scientists and prevents commercial hunting.
This is not the first time advocates have pushed wildlife management issues to voters. In 2020 Colorado voters narrowly approved a plan to require Colorado Parks and Wildlife to reintroduce wolves in Western Colorado by 2024. In 1996 voters approved a ban on lethal “leghold traps, instant-kill body-gripping design traps, poisons or snares” by animal trappers. In 1992, voters overwhelmingly approved a law that prevented hunting black bears with dogs or bait or between March 1 and September 1.
In early 2022, as Colorado lawmakers considered legislation that banned mountain lion and bobcat hunting and trapping, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers led a campaign that directed an estimated 20,000 emails to legislators blasting the proposed change in hunting regulations.
“We support hunting and fishing and trapping as efficient wildlife management models in Colorado,” Jones said. “We advance sound stewardship that is guided by science, not politics or emotion or any other conjecture.”