CPW: Plan emerging to counter mountain lion problems in Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood
IF YOU GO
What: Mountain lion management plan
When: Wednesday, 6 p.m.
Where: Glenwood Rec Center
Who: Colorado Parks and Wildlife will outline problem and updated management plan
The number and types of mountain lion sightings in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys has state wildlife officials convinced hunting allotments need to be increased to reduce the population of big cats.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is updating a mountain lion management plan for the western part of the state that would strive to stabilize the population of the big cats. Within that plan, CPW is looking at increasing the “harvest” of mountain lions in the game management units surrounding Carbondale and Glenwood Springs; Basalt, Fryingpan Valley and south to the Maroon Bells; Gypsum and Eagle; and Edwards and Avon, according to Matt Yamashita, area wildlife manager.
Yamashita said CPW fears that if action isn’t taken to reduce cat numbers, the number of conflicts with humans will spike within the next five to 10 years.
“We’re seeing more mountain lions in areas where we have not seen them,” Yamashita said Monday. “People could hike around all summer and not see one. It was exceedingly rare. It’s fairly routine now where mountain lions are residing near schools and neighborhoods.”
CPW is holding a series of meetings around the state to discuss the overall management proposal and take questions and comments from the public. The lineup includes a meeting Wednesday in Glenwood Springs (see factbox for details).
As evidence for causes for concern, he noted several instances in recent years, including: five mountain lions taking up residence under the porch of a house in Glenwood Springs, a child getting injured in an unprovoked attack while playing outside his home in Snowmass Canyon and an angler getting surprise attacked in the Deep Creek area of the Flat Tops.
In addition, wildlife officers are witnessing changes in behavior. In some cases, sub-adults are hanging with their mothers longer than normal. They are typically very solitary predators, Yamashita said.
“It’s concerning to us to see groups of mountain lions hanging out together and hunting as a pack,” he said.
Large male mountain lions can range from 180 to 200 pounds. Large females weigh in at 120 to 150 pounds. So, an attack by a big cat is obviously a dangerous situation.
“Protecting people from wildlife is part of our job,” Yamashita said.
CPW answers scores of calls of human-bear conflicts in some years. Unlike bears, which Yamashita called opportunistic predators that also will take steps like raiding garbage, mountain lions kill to feed.
“They’re predators, 100 percent,” he said.
Contributing factors for the changes in cat behavior — congregating and coming closer to civilization — are likely increased development and recreation into areas that used to be habitat for prey species, according to Yamashita. As deer and wild turkeys venture closer to civilization, mountain lions have followed.
“They’re learning that it’s OK to be close to humans,” Yamashita said.
But the results are often deadly. Eleven mountain lions were hunted and killed over a 16-month period of killing livestock at an El Jebel area ranch, according to Yamashita.
However, the proposal to increase the harvest in the Roaring Fork and Eagle valleys is driven “solely by human health and safety concerns,” Yamashita said.
Right now, there is a hunting quota of six cats for the vast Game Management Unit 444, which includes the Basalt area, up the Fryingpan and on the south side of Highway 82 to the Maroon Bells.
There is a five lion quota for hunting in Game Management Unit 43, which includes the Carbondale and Glenwood Springs area. Mountain lion hunting in those units is typically allowed from December to March. (It’s April to the following March in many other Game Management Units.) The quotas aren’t always filled.
The higher quotas haven’t been determined yet. Yamashita said adjustments wouldn’t be made for the hunting quotas in the game management units covering Woody Creek and Aspen/Independence Pass. There haven’t been the same numbers and types of sightings in those areas, he said.
The Wednesday meeting is open to the public, not just hunters and ranchers.
“We want people of all walks to attend these meetings,” Yamashita said.
The goal is to have the new plan put into place by April 2021.
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Studies by Colorado Parks and Wildlife show the survival of elk calves in the Roaring Fork Valley has dropped about 33 percent in the last decade. White River National Forest officials said they need to act to try to reserve that trend. They are seeking public comment on their plan.