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Mountain Lion Management
Mountain Lion Management

​​​Note: Colorado Parks and Wildlife takes no position for or against proposed initiatives such as Initiative 91 and will diligently implement all laws duly passed by the legislature and the Governor or by the voters.

Why is hunting an important part of wildlife management?

Regulated hunting emerged in response to dwindling wildlife populations at the turn of the 20th century. Before agencies like Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) existed, wildlife faced extinction due to market hunting and the absence of wildlife laws. Conservation agencies enabled states to implement hunting and fishing laws, ensuring dedicated personnel and funding for wildlife protection. Although only about 40 of Colorado's 960 species are "huntable," fees from hunting and fishing licenses contribute to the conservation of all wildlife, including threatened and endang​​ered species.

CPW's mountain lion management aligns with state statutes, emphasizing wildlife protection and recreation opportunities. Carefully regulated hunting is considered a form of "wildlife-related recreational opportunity," as specified in state statute. The statute says the state shall use hunting, trapping, and fishing as primary methods for necessary wildlife harvests.

The agency prioritizes health and human safety, and mountain lions that present a threat to public safety are lethally removed by agency staff, contractors or, in some cases, licensed hunters. 

How does hunting fit in Colorado Parks and Wildlife's mission?

CPW is committed to conserving 960 species, managing 40 state parks, and overseeing 350 wildlife areas. Our mission is to perpetuate the wildlife resources of the state, to provide a quality state parks system, and to provide enjoyable and sustainable outdoor recreation opportunities that educate and inspire current and future generations to serve as active stewards of Colorado's natural resources. CPW conducts research to manage wildlife and habitats, ensuring the state's natural beauty endures amidst growth and recreation. Recognizing the diverse interests of the state, CPW aims to maintain thriving wildlife populations, allowing people to enjoy outdoor recreation, be it through hunting, photography or simply appreciating the animals that live here. CPW believes in sustaining robust wildlife populations while facilitating responsible hunting practices.

If the goal is stability, why hunt mountain lions at all?

For many people, hunting is a continuation of the hunter-gatherer traditions and a way to connect to nature. It also helps maintain healthy wild animal populations. There is no evidence of managed hunting leading to the extinction of any species in Colorado, or of well-regulated hunting negatively affecting the population stability of the state’s mountain lions. 

Allowing lions to coexist with humans without thoughtful management has not proven successful in real-world scenarios. The Florida panther population, facing a potentially fatal genetic bottleneck, has grown because of active management. Introducing eight female lions from Texas supplemented genetics and averted potential decline. Newer lion populations in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska are now established because of wildlife agency management, not despite it. 

Although California eliminated mountain lion hunting in 1990, this did not lead to the elimination of lion deaths. Rather than managing mountain lions through regulated hunting, wildlife managers in California issue depredation permits to landowners to help manage lions. Colorado’s West Slope Lion Plan strives for a healthy lion population while balancing hunting, wildlife viewing opportunities and human safety.  

The West Slope Lion Plan incorporates advances in the science of lion management from the last 15 years, including two long-term research projects in Colorado. Focused on maintaining stable lion populations across the West Slope, the plan implements clear yearly thresholds and incorporates adaptive management for evaluating human-lion conflicts. It emphasizes the collection of crucial lion population size data on the West Slope while ensuring a balance of opportunities for the public to benefit from and enjoy lion populations into the future.

What is the West Slope Mountain Lion Management Plan?

CPW manages wildlife at the population level, acknowledging the unique characteristics and needs of each species. The West Slope Mountain Lion Management Plan, approved by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission in September 2020, consolidates and revises 13 older plans into one overarching strategy that better aligns with mountain lions’ needs. This plan, based on the best available science, employs safeguards to prevent overharvest, focusing on protecting adult female lions and setting an upper limit on human-caused lion mortality. Human-caused mortality includes hunting harvest, landowner and other human-lion conflict removals, and roadkills.  

The West Slope Plan provides a science-based framework for maintaining a stable lion population across the entire West Slope, now and into the future. To this end, the plan incorporates rigorous safeguards on harvest levels and independent metrics on annual evaluations to make sure mortality levels are acceptable. The plan commits to measuring lion population sizes in select survey areas (this began in Jan. 2021) and provides flexibility in addressing human-lion conflicts. Under the West Slope plan, the annual maximum lion harvest (for the West Slope only) is 461, a reduction of about 70 lions. The area around Glenwood Springs is the only area proposed for a smaller lion population.

The mountain lion harvest levels in the West Slope Plan are below those of many other states and similar to levels recommended by some lion advocacy groups. The plan recognizes hunting as a crucial part of maintaining healthy lion populations. Importantly, the plan does not propose reducing regional lion populations to bolster deer or elk numbers. In fact, the plan moves away from the suppression objectives outlined in older plans and sets new limits to maintain lion populations at levels similar to what they are now.