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Colorado tries to save deer through “predator control plan”

Bear in field
Photo credits: Shutterstock

After a year of deliberations and debate, the Colorado wildlife commissioners have unanimously approved a controversial plan that targets euthanizing “excess” mountain lions and bears in the upper Arkansas River Basin around Salida and the Picesance Basin near Rifle to save floundering mule deer. The approval means that Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) will move forward in the elimination of the predators through cage traps, culvert traps, foot snares and hunting dogs.

As goHUNT previously reported, the state wants to take action before it’s too late for the mule deer. The approved “predator control” plan will cost the state $4.5 million and, according to,  would eliminate about 15 mountain lions and 25 black bears annually, beginning this spring.

The decision has sparked anger from the Humane Society of the United States, wildlife conservation groups and outside scientists who say that CPW is undermining the real reason behind the mule deer decline (lack of habitat and human disturbance brought on by oil and gas development) in favor of hunter interests, which provides 90% of CPW’s funding, according to the Denver Post.

Yet, Jeff Ver Steeg, CPW’s assistant director for research, policy and planning, notes that “any and all those things can have an effect on mule deer” and says that predation could play just as much of a role in the overall decline that the habitat loss and oil and gas development does. Right now, it’s about formulating a plan and trying to sustain what’s left of Colorado’s mule deer population.

Currently, there are an estimated 400,000 mule deer within the state, which is only 80% of the target population, according to While Colorado allows mule deer hunts each year, CPW says that the need to increase mule deer numbers isn’t because the state wants to sell more hunting licenses. In fact, within the targeted areas where bears and mountains lions will be killed, the state has reduced the number of deer hunting licenses to less than 7,000, according to the Denver Post.

“We are very determined to keep mule deer numbers from declining any further,” CPW's Northwest Regional Manager Ron Velarde told The Denver Channel. “The strategy is very specific in terms of how we will turn this around, but it will take hard work, substantial funding and the support of our sportsmen.”





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Matthew M. - posted 3 years ago on 12-31-2016 06:47:54 pm
Craig, Colorado

Most units in Northwest Colorado have a 5 lion limit. a lot of units are already closed this way. We have no spring bear season, can't bait, can't run bear with dogs and we don't understand why the bear numbers are higher than they should be? Um, it will cost the state 4.5 million....for 15 lions and 25 bears?? release an extra 15 lion tags and open a spring season as a test. Take in the tag money or sell them for auction or to an outfitter. Once again...something fishy going on in Colorado!!

Kevin C. - posted 3 years ago on 12-21-2016 08:36:42 am
Arvada, Colorado

It's a study and RMEF is in support of the plan. This could be part of a long term plan to reintroduce hounds, baiting, and spring bear hunting if the results are favorable. I agree it's a lot of money but you guys need to look at the big picture. If hunters have a 5% success rate we are not being an effective tool for managing the population with the methods we currently have at our disposal. This trapping and killing by government trappers is already going on for depredation cases, it's just not highly publicized. Getting some hard scientific data may be the next step to giving hunters the proper tools to manage the bears.

Elmer F. - posted 3 years ago on 12-20-2016 04:56:49 pm

So basically CO is cowering to the anti's. Just like they did when they took away our ability to bait and run bears with dogs.
When is someone in this state going to let their nuts drop and say NO, this is what we are going to do.
I live near one area. I personally numerous lion hunters that would gladly hunt there. But instead we will pay a Govmint trapper to do it. Just like we pay one every spring and summer to kill our bears, that no one gets any good out of.
Educate the public. Get the spring bear hunting statute overturned. Get enough signatures to get it back on the ballot and over turn it. Stop cowering.
So if I am reading this correctly. 15 lions and 25 bears in two different areas for three years??
That's about 19K per animal. Pathetic.

Duane S. - posted 3 years ago on 12-20-2016 06:59:53 am
Etna, california

I am in agreement with Ryan! Why spend 4.5 MILLION dollars? With some work on the Colorado wildlife commission part they could generate monies to help the deer programs by selling tags!! There is something wrong with a plan that spends money when money could be generated and then spent on the programs to help the deer herds. The only reason i can see is that they don't want the fantasy land folks protesting and the negative publicity it may generate. As we all know science and sound management has no part in the fanatics reasoning. Once again the crazies are running the policies of our game management and not sound judgment. I should know as i live in the land that has the MOST fantazy land folks that have full control of our Fish and Game decisions (california). We don't hunt lions, we don't have spring bear hunts and no dogs allowed anymore and soon we will have wolves. Our deer herds are all but gone in the north state where i live. At least Colorado sees the problem and willing to do SOMETHING even if it cost a lot of money. Here in Disneyland (that's dizzy land ) the deer herds would be allowed to just go away!

Kelly W. - posted 3 years ago on 12-18-2016 06:30:43 pm
Cortez, CO

Justin, I agree 100%, bears in CO are out of control. It does seem pointless to buy a tag, as you mentioned, the chance of actually having the opportunity to fill the permit is slim.
And it isn't right that increasing predator tags is like moving a mountain, unlike deer, elk, antelope, etc. We live in a world where emotion replaces biology, and predators are placed on a pedestal. I understand the dance CPW is engaged in, I don't agree with it but I understand it.

Justin S. - posted 3 years ago on 12-18-2016 06:09:26 pm

At the end of the day, we need to get spring bear back and/or initiate baiting to take care of the bears. Bears are out of control in Colorado with only around a 5% success rate per license. People are going to stop buying the bear licenses soon because it's going to start feeling like a waste of money. Most people buy one just to have on the off chance they see one during a deer/elk hunt.

Still don't understand why CPW can't issue a few more mountain lion licenses just like managers can increase or decrease elk tags from year to year based on statistics. It sounds like from Kelly's comment it would take a huge effort to add mountain lion licenses. Doesn't seem right.

Kelly W. - posted 3 years ago on 12-18-2016 05:55:42 pm
Cortez, CO

Ryan, You are not wrong but unfortunately wildlife management is based on emotion much of time, not the science it should be. And taxpayers pay minimal $$$ to CPW and wildlife management, 90% of the budget comes from the sale of licenses, the percentage coming from the general public is minimal. In my opinion this needs to change, everyone enjoys seeing wildlife but we hunters foot the bill, doesn't see right to me.
CPW can't simply increase the number of predator permits in a given area w/o sound info/science to back it up. Sinapu, peta and every other anti group would be on that like white on rice. They do have the power to do a 'study' though. A study attempts to take the emotion out of it, and bring science/biology into the debate.
I agree with you 100% that hunters would gladly do the legwork and pay to do it, but we have to dance around the anti's, it's the world we live in. Conservationists/hunters are the minority, if we don't have the data to show a tool of management needs to be continued, then we don't stand a chance when an anti group puts wildlife management on a ballot initiative, like Colorado's loss of spring bear hunting years ago.
I don't know what the answer is but if these two study areas show an improvement and lead to more predator tags for hunters and the recovery of mule deer then I'm all for it. If it proves the opposite then other avenues need to be investigated. Time will tell...