Petitioners for ballot initiative to ban hunting mountain lions, bobcats, & lynx await only Colorado Supreme Court go-ahead to get started
DENVER, Colorado––Proponents of banning mountain lion [puma], bobcat, and lynx hunting in Colorado await only a Colorado Supreme Court verdict expected in February 2024 to hit the streets seeking at least 124,238 qualified signatures from registered voters on a petition seeking to place Initiative 91 on the November 2024 state ballot.
First the Colorado Supreme Court must rule on a last-ditch attempt by hunters, trappers, and houndsmen to keep voters from having their say, by appealing against the language of the title of the proposed Initiative 91.
The Initiative 91 language has already been amended once in response to a previous appeal by hunters, trappers, and houndsmen, and was subsequently approved by the Title Board of the Colorado Secretary of State.
The current final version of the Initiative 91 petition language states, “The voters of Colorado find and declare that any trophy hunting of mountain lions, bobcats, or lynx is inhumane, serves no socially acceptable or ecologically beneficial purpose, and fails to further public safety.
“Trophy hunting is practiced primarily for the display of an animal’s head, fur, or other body parts, rather than for utilization of the meat,” the Initiative 91 petition language avers.
“Moreover, it [trophy hunting] is almost always conducted by unsporting means, including but not limited to, using packs of dogs with electronic devices to pursue and entrap affected animals in places from which they cannot escape in order to achieve the kill.
“Therefore, it is appropriate and necessary to ban trophy hunting of mountain lions, bobcats, and lynx in Colorado.”
The Initiative 91 ballot measure language is comparatively stodgy boilerplate, describing “A change to the Colorado Revised Statutes concerning a prohibition on the hunting of mountain lions, lynx, and bobcats, and, in connection therewith, prohibiting the intentional killing, wounding, pursuing, entrapping, or discharging or releasing of a deadly weapon at a mountain lion, lynx, or bobcat; creating eight exceptions to this prohibition including for the protection of human life, property, and livestock; establishing a violation of this prohibition as a class 1 misdemeanor; and increasing fines and limiting wildlife license privileges for persons convicted of this crime.”
History favors Initiative 91
A sustained furor erupted among Colorado hunters, trappers, and houndsmen almost from the moment the original Initiative 91 language was submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State’s office in September 2023––because they know they are very likely to lose, as many admit, if Initiative 91 does reach the November 2024 ballot.
Colorado voters in 1992 banned hunting black bears with dogs, bait, and/or between March 1 and September 1 of each year, when mother bears are either denned with cubs or teaching cubs to find their own food.
Colorado voters followed up in 1996 by banning the use of “leghold traps, instant-kill body-gripping design traps, poisons or snares.”
In 2020 Colorado voters ordered Colorado Parks & Wildlife to reintroduce wolves to western Colorado by 2024. The first five wolves to be released as part of the reintroduction effort were turned loose on state-owned land in Grand County on December 18, 2023.
Polls also favor Initiative 91
Colorado Parks & Wildlife surveyed 1,300 state residents in 2005, reporting that while 47% supported mountain lion hunting, 41% did not, and 34% would support a ban.
Fifteen years later, though, in July 2020, the Humane Society of the United States surveyed 1,800 Colorado voters, finding 69% opposed to hunting mountain lions, with only 23% in favor of continued mountain lion hunting.
Surveys done by Colorado State University and the Summerlee Foundation in 2022 found 67% strongly agreeing that mountain lions should not be harmed by humans without cause.
What do mountain lions have to do with single-sex marriage?
Dan Gates, president of the Colorado Trappers and Predator Hunters Association, on December 6, 2023 apparently tried to slow the momentum favoring Initiative 91 by linking opposition to mountain lion hunting to single-sex marriage in a column for Eastmans.com, a web site describing itself as “a three generation media based hunting company whose goal is to promote the pursuit of elk hunting, deer hunting and all western big game.”
This, wrote Gates, “is something that has continued to escalate since 2018 when the current governor [Jared Polis] was elected, bringing with him a slew of animal rights agendas to essentially curtail wildlife management and the agricultural industry while putting a chokehold and attempting to erode and degrade animal welfare and animal husbandry practices throughout the state.
“Following this pathway in Colorado, animal rights activists including the Governor’s husband (First Gentleman) have allowed the stars to align where the activists in the last several months filed two ballot initiatives to ban all harvest of mountain lions and bobcats.”
Initiative 101: diversionary tactic
Two ballot initiatives?
Yes. Anticipating losing Initiative 91, Colorado hunters, trappers, and houndsmen in late November 2023 sought to confuse the issues by filing a petition in favor of a second ballot measure, Initiative 101, which as summarized by hunting writer Jason Blevins of The Outsider and The Colorado Sun, “would limit — but not ban — hunting mountain lions, bobcats and lynx.
“Like the original,” Blevins explained, “the new proposal would prohibit the use of traps, dogs and electronic calls that mimic the sound of an injured animal in hunting wildcats. It also would prevent so-called ‘trophy hunting’ of wildcats by requiring every carcass — excluding usable meat —to be turned over in order to keep hunters from mounting, displaying or preserving wildcats as ‘souvenirs of their hunts.’
“But Initiative 101 would allow a two-week season for hunting mountain lions and bobcats at the end of December.
“Both proposed ballot measures would ask voters to ban hunting of Canada lynx,” Blevins noted, “but hunting lynx is not permitted in the state and the cat is protected nationally as an endangered species.”
Cats Aren’t Trophies
Pat Craig, founder of The Wild Animal Sanctuary, operating the world’s largest predator sanctuaries in Weld, Las Animas and Baca counties of Colorado, Dave Ruane of Colorado Backcountry Hunters & Anglers and the Colorado Bowhunters Association, and southwestern Colorado veterinarian Christine Capaldo summarized the major arguments for Initiative 91 in a September 24, 2023 guest column for the Boulder Daily Camera.
“This week,” Craig, Ruane, and Capaldo began, “a diverse statewide coalition — Cats Aren’t Trophies (CATs) — initiated a Colorado ballot measure to end trophy hunting of mountain lions, along with fur trapping of bobcats.
“All about trophy hunting”
Colorado trappers, Craig, Ruane, and Capaldo pointed out, annually set about 4,000 cage traps to capture as many as 2,000 bobcats, who are shot and skinned to sell their pelts primarily to buyers from Russia and China.
Mountain lion hunting, Craig, Ruane, and Capaldo wrote, “is all about trophy hunting, not killing for meat or for management. Trophy hunters pay outfitters as much as $8,000 for a 100% guaranteed kill, and are led to the tree after the guide and his dogs have treed the lion.
“The hunter then shoots the lion off of a tree branch — the moral and sporting equivalent of shooting a lion in a cage at a zoo.”
“Mountain lions keep deer herds healthy”
Then Craig, Ruane, and Capaldo came to the big reason why anyone in Colorado hunting for any reason other than the sheer sadistic joy of killing something should support Proposition 91 as avidly as animal rights activists:
“Mountain lions keep deer herds healthy, according to Colorado Parks & Wildlife researchers, in the midst of rampant chronic wasting disease, which is a massive threat to elk and deer hunting.”
Chronic wasting disease was first identified in 1967 among captive deer held at a Colorado State University wildlife research facility. By the time chronic wasting disease was discovered to be spread by prions, the same almost indestructible rogue particles of genetic material that cause mad cow disease, Colorado game farmers had already spread chronic wasting disease all over North American with exports of elk and deer raised in captivity to be hunted.
Chronic wasting disease is out of control
Acknowledges the Colorado Parks & Wildlife web site, “As of April 2022, chronic wasting disease had been detected in 40 of our 54 deer herds, 17 of 42 elk herds, and two of nine moose herds. Disease prevalence (percent infected) is highest in deer and lowest in moose. The percentage of sampled animals infected (or ‘prevalence’) appears to be rising in many affected Colorado herds.”
Indeed, about one in five mule deer and whitetailed deer in Colorado whose remains have been tested have been afflicted by chronic wasting disease, Colorado Parks & Wildlife admits.
“Mountain lions prey selectively on prion-infected mule deer”
But “Mountain lions prey selectively on prion-infected mule deer,” headlined Colorado scientists Caroline E. Krumm, Mary M. Conner, N. Thompson Hobbs, Don O. Hunter and Michael W. Miller above a 2009 study published by the peer-reviewed journal Biology Letters.
Krumm and Miller were employees of the Colorado Division of Wildlife research center in Fort Collins.
What the researchers found, from comparing deer killed by mountain lions to deer killed by human hunters, was that “Adult mule deer killed by mountain lions were more likely to be prion-infected than were deer killed more randomly in sympatric populations, suggesting that mountain lions were selecting for infected individuals when they targeted adult deer.”
In other words, mountain lions, like any wild predator, preferentially target prey already weakened by disease, injury, or conditions of age, and accordingly are much more efficient at culling chronic wasting disease out of the deer, elk, and moose populations than human hunters, to tend to shoot the biggest and healthiest.
Colorado Parks & Wildlife has been slow to recognize the utility of mountain lions in helping the state to cope with what is now the largest, oldest, most widespread wildlife disease pandemic on record among North American mammals.
“In 1965 bounties were abolished and [mountain] lions were classified as a game animal,” the Colorado Parks & Wildlife web site recounts.
Colorado hunters killed 81 mountain lions in 1980, 439 in 2001, and have killed about 500 mountain lions per year ever since.
Since each mountain lion kills and consumes approximately 50 deer per year, the Colorado mountain lion population, if left alone, could in theory have eradicated chronic wasting disease long since.
Federal judge stopped black bear & puma cull
In reality, wildlife management is never quite that simple.
But Colorado Parks & Wildlife apparently made the chronic wasting disease situation worse, indicated Julie Marshall, then of the Fort Morgan Times and now a media liaison with Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy, in 2020.
“An undisclosed number of cougars, as well as black bears, have been killed (with more planned to be killed) as part of a $4 million multi-year, predator-killing program illegally supported with federal dollars,” Marshall wrote.
“Starting in 2016 Colorado Parks & Wildlife began testing its theory of ‘less predators equals more mule deer’ to address a decline in mule deer numbers and lost hunting opportunities in southwestern and northwestern parts of the state.”
In April 2021, Marshall explained, “A federal judge halted the experiment, because officials hadn’t conducted required environmental impact analyses with precision.”
Mountain lions & bobcats more valuable alive than dead
Animal Wellness Action and the Center for a Humane Economy veterinarian Jim Keen, formerly a senior veterinary researcher for the USDA Agricultural Research Service in Nebraska for 15 years and later a faculty member for 13 years at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln School of Veterinary Medicine, argues that “Multiple lines of evidence suggest that mountain lions and bobcats are economically and socially valuable to people” alive, rather than killed for pelts and trophies.
In particular, Keen explains, “Mountain lions keep deer numbers in check and keep deer moving, which reduces herd size and prevents overgrazing and loss of habitat (or crop) flora.”
Deer more dangerous than mountain lions
Further, Keen continues, “Though equipped with sharp teeth, claws, and incredible physical capabilities, mountain lions are far from the most dangerous wild animals to humans in North America. In the United States, this distinction goes to the mountain lion’s primary prey, deer.
“Around 2.1 million deer-vehicle collisions occur in the U.S. annually, causing more than $10 billion in economic losses, 59,000 human injuries, and 440 human deaths. These accidents are most frequent in the East, where mountain lions and wolves are absent, and deer have reached unnaturally high densities.”
Offers Marshall, “California, a state with 39.5 million people, has not allowed cougar killing as a recreational sport for decades. One would think California would have higher rates of conflict between mountain lions and people, but a study by the late mountain lion biologist John Laundre at Western Oregon University found that compared to 10 [other] western states with mountain lions, California had the third lowest rate of per-capita attacks on people, with 0.4 attacks per million persons. It also had the least amount of cougar attacks on sheep by far.”
Patrick Montgomery, mountain lion hunter
Marshall in June 2021 observed that a mountain lion “was shot and killed with a .357 Magnum handgun at an undisclosed Colorado state park by Patrick Montgomery of Littleton, a professional hunting guide, who was charged with 10 criminal counts, including assaulting a police office, during the January 6, 2021 attack on our nation’s Capitol.
“According to news accounts,” Marshall summarized, “Montgomery tried to grab the officer’s baton, wrestled him to the ground, and kicked the officer in the chest.
“When he got home to Colorado, Montgomery used a slingshot to fell a bobcat from a tree and watch his dogs maul the feline to death.
“Montgomery got caught after posting online photos he took posing with the mountain lion,” Marshall finished.
Updated the Denver television station KDVR on January 6, 2022, “Montgomery pleaded not guilty to entering the Capitol building that day. He was ordered on house arrest in May 2021, after killing a mountain lion, as it violated his pretrial release conditions for him to have guns — he was banned from owning guns after a 1996 robbery conviction.”
As of the moment, Montgomery is apparently still awaiting trial.