Snowy mountains in Colorado with blooming wild flowers at the base.
 
Photograph of lion in snow.

THE STATUS OF COUGARS IN COLORADO

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

Since 1917 at least 11,130 mountain lions have been reported killed by humans in the state. Eighty-four percent of these deaths occurred after mountain lions were classified as Big Game animals in 1965. Colorado's 2009-10 mountain lion hunting quota was set at 598, and hunters were allowed to kill one lion per season of either sex. The Colorado Wildlife Commission appears unwilling to protect female mountain lions or significantly reduce overall hunting quotas.

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Colorado's Cougar Management Plan

The state of Colorado encompasses 103,717 square miles of land. The Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) estimates that 58,822 square miles, roughly 57 percent of the state is suitable mountain lion habitat. This habitat is found essentially from the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains westward to the Utah border, and in parts of the southeast corner of the state.s

A 2003 Colorado Parks and Wildlife report notes that "Colorado does not regularly estimate puma populations because no reliable, cost effective sample based population estimation technique currently exist." Instead, CPW developed its official estimate of 3,000 to 7,000 mountain lions by first extrapolating population projection models provided by studies completed in other states, and then by using information provided annually from hunter harvest, non-hunter mortality, game damage conflicts, and human-lion conflicts for rough indicators of population change.

While CPW officials may use these broad numbers in explaining mountain lion management policies and hunting quotas, the Department's status report also stated that a range of 3,500 to 4,500 mountain lions was more probable.

These conflicting numbers underscore the fact that censusing mountain lion populations is difficult and, like most state game agencies, CPW does not have precise population size estimates. In their 2004 report, The State of Pumas in the West, the Colorado-based conservation organization WildEarth Guardians (formerly known as Sinapu) noted that over a fifteen-month period CPW presented five divergent estimates on Colorado's mountain lion population thereby indicating that higher quality and more consistent data would be useful for setting lion quota numbers.

Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Colorado

Since 1917 at least 14,066 mountain lions have been reported killed by humans in Colorado. This figure does not include:

  • lion deaths from road accidents,
  • secondary poisoning,
  • kittens or injured adults euthanized by CPW,
  • death by unknown causes, and
  • poaching.

 
Graph of human-caused lion mortality in Colorado.

Eighty-four percent of these deaths occurred after mountain lions were classified as Big Game animals in 1965.

Based on a lion-mortality density model developed by the Mountain Lion Foundation, Colorado averages 0.65 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. This equals the eleven western state average of 0.65. Using MLFs mortality ranking system, Colorado ranks 4th (# 1 being the most deadly) amongst the 11 states studied by MLF in reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

During MLFs 10-year study period (1992-2001), sport hunting accounted for 92 percent of all reported human caused mountain lion mortalities in Colorado, with the remainder split between depredation kills and unspecified mortality causes.

In 2001, sport hunting related mountain lion mortalities exceeded the previous years take by 121 lions and 1992s sport hunting kills by 144.

In 2003, Colorado provided a sex breakdown of its mountain lion harvests for the years 1998 through 2001. During this four-year period 51 percent (765) of the total mountain lions killed for recreational purposes were female mountain lions.

Mortality Sources in Colorado

According to MLFs 11 western state study of human-caused mountain lion mortalities (1992-2001), the Colorado DAUs (Data Analysis Unit) where most of the mountain lion deaths occurred in map areas L-7, L-8, L-9, L-16, and L-22.(click map to enlarge).

From 1997 to 2001, these five DAUs accounted for 995 human-caused mountain lion mortalities. During this time period, these DAUs were responsible for 48 percent of human-caused mountain lion mortalities in Colorado while encompassing only 26 percent of the identified mountain lion habitat.

With an average mortality density rate of 1.7 mountain lions killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat, MLF's study ranked DAU L-7 as Colorado's highest mortality hotspot. From 1997 to 2001, L-7 averaged 87 human-caused mountain lion mortalities per year and accounted for 21 percent of all the states human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

Mountain lion harvest data collected since then has shown that DAU L-7 continues to be a deadly area for mountain lions.

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Commonly abbreviated as: CPW

Bob Broscheid, Parks and Wildlife Director

Main Office:
1313 Sherman Street, 6th Floor
Denver, CO 80203
303-297-1192
dnr_cpwcommission@state.co.us


Carnivore Coordinator
Jerry Apker
0722 South Rd 1East
Monte Vista CO 81144
jerry.apker@state.co.us
719-587-6922

Please write to the director and express your concern for mountain lions in Colorados.

Thank CPW when they take steps to protect our state's mountain lions. Ask for policy reform and more officer training when they fall short of expectations.
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