The Colorado Division of Wildlife this week will propose allowing big game hunting on Boulder County open space essentially banned since the county acquired its first parcel of land more than 30 years ago as one of the ways to reduce encounters between people and mountain lions.
Division officials will broach the subject at a meeting Wednesday with open space officials from Boulder and several other Front Range counties.
"I can imagine there are people who this discussion will make uncomfortable, but we need to arrive at an understanding of how to manage big game wildlife," said Rick Enstrom, an eight-year member of the Colorado Wildlife Commission, who calls Boulder County a hot spot for wildlife encounters.
Enstrom said if current policies prevail in which open space property is largely set aside as an undisturbed wildlife sanctuary brushes between humans and cougars will become more frequent and perhaps more deadly.
This year saw dozens of mountain lion sightings and encounters in Boulder County, including an attack on a 7-year-old boy near Flagstaff Mountain in April.
"There's going to be a situation in the next few years where a mountain lion is going to take another human being," Enstrom said.
Ron Stewart, director of Boulder County Parks and Open Space, isn't convinced that the county's wild areas are overrun by deer, elk or cougars. And he contends that many of the parcels under his department's control, such as Heil Valley Ranch, Hall Ranch and Betasso Preserve, are too remote for mountain lions to pose an immediate danger to residents.
While Stewart is open to hearing what the DOW has to say at Wednesday's meeting, he said the county needs to be clear on what its open space mission is.
"This is a place that very much wants to protect wildlife and protect wildlife habitat," he said. "They might suggest some things that Boulder County could find acceptable and other things that we don't."
Enstrom said the DOW will formally offer its management proposals to county officials after it completes an urban mountain lion study scheduled for next year.
Until hunting is included as a potential wildlife management tool either directly by hunting the big cats or by culling the number of deer and elk upon which they feast Enstrom said the DOW will be forced to operate with its hands tied behind its back, simply responding to events rather than trying to prevent them.
"We have all of the responsibility and none of the authority to manage wildlife," he said of the DOW. "Managing it on a case-by-case basis is disaster management and not a responsible way to do it."
Dave Hoerath, a wildlife specialist with Boulder County Parks and Open Space, said he understands the DOW's frustration and is trying to work with the agency. He said his department teamed up with the division a few years ago, when it removed deer from county land to combat chronic wasting disease.
Additionally, Hoerath said his department plans to continue allowing grouse and turkey hunting on three rugged parcels near Eldorado Canyon known as the BLM-South Boulder Creek properties that it just acquired from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. He said Boulder County Open Space may even try to open up some of its east county parcels to hunting in an effort to keep the goose population in check.
But when it comes to allowing hunters to shoot deer, elk, bear and mountain lions on some of the county's most pristine mountainous open space terrain, Hoerath said that won't happen without a fight.
Or without approval from the county commissioners, who won't meet with the DOW on the issue until next sometime next month.