On Dec. 14 last year, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission made a unanimous decision to pass a plan to euthanize predators, such as mountain lions, in an attempt to raise the mule deer population.
After the release of the project, some members of Colorado State University, including professors from the department of conservation biology, feel this is not necessarily the right course of action.
“We find it surprising that CPW’s own research clearly indicates that the most likely limiting factors for mule deer are food limitation, habitat loss and human-induced disturbance – not predators,” wrote CSU wildlife biologists Joel Berger, Kevin Crooks and Barry noon in a letter to the commissioners.
The CPW has a long standing history with mule deer study and preservation. A history that, according to their website, dates back to the agency’s roots.
According to the CPW, the plan that they have put forth aims to bring the mule deer population up from its current standing of 450,000 to 560,000 deer statewide.
Their plan, titled “Piceance and Arkansas Predator Control Plans,” is posted on the CPW website, along with a few brief paragraphs about the organizations’s efforts with mule deer population in the past, as well as their outlook for the plan itself.
In his presentation explaining the scope of the plan, assistant director of research, policy and planning Jeff Ver Steeg explained that the strategy calls to improve habitat, mitigate development impacts, reduce impacts of highways, reduce impacts of human recreation, regulate doe harvest and maintain strong population and disease monitoring programs
The strategy directs the CPW to identify areas where predation may be limiting, and conduct research where uncertainty hinders management.
The presentation also lays out the two proposals in general terms. The Piceance study is a three-year study in which two fawn birthing areas will be monitored. Along with this, predators will be removed in treatment units during the spring of each year, with 1 percent of lion population being targeted and 2 percent of bear population.
The Arkansas plan is a nine-year study that plans to do more work with lion population. During the first three years, the CPW will reduce lion population in treatment units and increase lion population in control units, letting populations recover during the middle three years, then at the end reversing the first three years of influence
“At the end of the nine years, the total number of lions removed from the research area is likely to be the same as (or less than) would have been removed by hunting alone without the study,” explained the presentation.
In their brief paragraph describing their aim of the project, the CPW explains that euthanizing predators is not necessarily the solution to the problem.
“CPW is not suggesting that the removal of predators is the solution to increasing statewide deer numbers to 560,000. These two research projects are designed to evaluate the extent to which predation is limiting deer population size in the two specific study areas” says the CPW website.
Berger, a professor and university chair of wildlife conservation, wrote an email to the Collegian stating that there are many factors that contribute to mule deer declines. Factors include poaching, habitat fragmentation and habitat loss, that should be looked at.
“The answer is not black and white, the science of ecology is complicated,” wrote Berger in an email to the Collegian.
Berger added that he is not the CPW and wanted to restrict his comments to scientific evidence and not speculation.
“When science is claimed to be a basis for decision making, the public as well as government decision-makers should have immutable confidence that the process or claims are not flawed,” Berger wrote. “In this case, the Wildlife Commissioners who are not scientists clearly have a difficult job but never ever should they be led astray.”
Collegian reporter Austin Fleskes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @MrPacMan80.