An outrageous and costly plan approved by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission will kill over 100 mountain lions and bears, just so more deer are available for hunting season.
Despite widespread criticism and opposition from scientists and conservationists, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPW) is going ahead with a controversial “experimental plan” to trap and kill an estimated 45 mountain lion and 75 bears over a three year period. The plan, which will cost Colorado taxpayers an astounding $4.5 million, is said to be aimed at increasing the plummeting population of mule deer. The commission hopes to gauge if the removal of the deer’s natural predators will contribute to a rebound as the costly plan will be followed by a six-year study examining the deer population’s response.
Colorado is currently home to an estimated 400,000 mule deer, down from the commission’s target of between 525,00 and 575,000. “We’re trying to understand what contributes to it,” commissioner Chris Castilian told the Denver Post. “Our main motivations is to get to the bottom of the deer declines we’ve seen […] Everybody is concerned about the mule deer population.” Though the commission appears to mean well, there is sufficient evidence to suggest that an ulterior motive is to blame for the experimental slaughter of important predator species.
The first clue that something is amiss is the scientific consensus that natural predation is in no way to blame for the deer population decline. Even the pro-hunting Mule Deer Foundation along with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) point to habitat loss due to human development as the primary cause. Brian Kurzel, regional director for the NWF told Ecowatch “habitat degradation from energy, and residential development, which has been confirmed by CPW biologists for years, should be the primary focus of scientifically-based wildlife management.” Andrea Santarsiere, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, echoed these claims, saying “Deer in Colorado suffer from lack of habitat and habitat degradation, largely due to expansive oil and gas drilling and invasive plant species. Without adequate nutrition, deer will not thrive no matter how many predators CPW removes.”
Indeed, deer population declines began at roughly the same time that fossil fuel production in the state expanded. Between 2005 and 2012, 8,965 new wells were dug, making Colorado the sixth leading producer of natural gas in the United States. More than 90% of those wells were created by means of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. In other states, increased oil and gas drilling has been shown to shrink deer populations by up to 30%.
If the scientific consensus is against the plan to kill off the deer’s natural predators – why was it approved? Many residents and other critics have argued that the commission’s decision was motivated by money. The CPW receives 90% of its funding from hunting and fishing license revenues, with $693 million generated in just northwestern Colorado. Last hunting season, 34,000 mule deer were killed by hunters. Without a higher deer population, the commission’s largest source of income is in danger.
Also of note is the CPW’s disdain for the welfare of the natural predators targeted in the “study.” Mountain lions are also a game animal for Colorado, even though the CPW has admitted it has no idea of the population size of the species within the state. Despite that, they allowed 467 to be killed last hunting season. Despite the massive impact that last year’s hunting season had on the mountain lion population in the state, the commission didn’t bother gauging the mountain lion’s population before approving the killing of 45 more for “research.” It’s also worth pointing out that if killing off nearly 500 natural predators did nothing to rebound the deer population in the past year, this newly approved plan to kill even more will be an abject failure.
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