Snowy mountains in Colorado with blooming wild flowers at the base.
 
Photo of lion statue in park along hiking trail.

HISTORY OF COUGARS IN COLORADO

Mule deer studies are planning to kill hundreds of mountain lions.

From 1881 until 1965 mountain lions we classified as a bountied predator, bringing a reward of $3 to $50 for each mountain lion killed. As public attitudes shifted, so did management policies. For fear of "the careless extermination of an animal as interesting and graceful as the mountain lion," public pressure caused Colorado's state wildlife agency to abolish the bounty and reclassify mountain lions as big game species. Though it may seem counterintuitive that being able to hunt a species could help protect it, this new designation meant that mountain lion harvest was highly regulated. Hunting regulations set limits on the number, spatial distribution, and
                   demographics of the pumas that could be killed.

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The History of Cougars in Colorado

Colorado's History of Mountain Lion Management

Mesa Verde Petroglyph
Petroglyph from Mesa Verde National Park taken by James St. John.

Genetic research indicates that the common ancestor of today's Leopardus, Lynx, Puma, Prionailurus, and Felis lineages migrated across the Bering land bridge into the Americas approximately 8 to 8.5 million years ago. What we know as a cougar today became recognizable as a distinct species about 400,000 years ago, and inhabited nearly all of the Americas for hundreds of thousands of years, alongside the giant sloth, the mammoth, the dire wolf and the sabre-toothed lion. During the Pleistocene ice ages, conditions appear to have become too cold for cougar populations to survive, and paleotologists believe that at the end of the last ice age, the big cats repopulated North America from a southern refugium. Cougars have inhabited Colorado, alongside humans, for over 40,000 years. Native peoples memorialized the cougar in rock carvings, totems, in story and in song.

Bounty Period

Mountain lions in Colorado were a bountied predator between 1881 and 1965. Rewards for mountain lion pelts ranged from $3 to 50$. Historic records show that rewards were paid for over 1,750 dead mountain lions during the bounty period. Harvest pressure on the local population was very high and had an extremely large impact on mountain lion numbers. By the early 60s Colorado's mountain lion population, once abundant in the state, had fallen to as low as 124 individuals.

Regulated Hunting

Severely declining mountain lion numbers and a sea change in public opinion towards large carnivores put new pressure on state wildlife managers to protect the state's mountain lions. Within a few years the bounty was abolished and a hunt was created. Designating mountain lions as a big game species allowed wildlife managers to closely monitor, and more importantly, restrict harvest. New hunting regulations set quotas, bag limits, and restrictions on killing nursing females and cubs. Though pumas have returned to many places from which they were eradicated, they now face indirect threats such as roads, human development, and habitat loss.

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