Lawsuit filed over predator controls

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is facing a court challenge of its plans to reduce predator numbers outside Rifle and in the Upper Arkansas River Valley to see if mule deer numbers improve.

WildEarth Guardians said Friday it has sued the agency and the commission that oversees it.

“CPW’s plans are not grounded in sound science, violate Colorado’s Constitution, and are neither supported by the vast majority of Coloradans nor in the public interest,” Stuart Wilcox, staff attorney for WildEarth Guardians, said in a news release. “The Parks and Wildlife Commission’s disdain for the public’s will and the opinions of dozens of our country’s leading scientists is hugely concerning.”

The commission approved the two studies in December. They are scheduled to begin this year. WildEarth Guardians says the agency received more than 6,500 public comments opposing them.

The agency plans to contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to have it remove up to 15 lions and 25 bears a year on 500 square miles of the Roan Plateau over three years to see if it boosts fawn survival rates. Hounds and nonlethal traps and snaring will be employed, with captive animals being shot, except in the case of captive families, which will be relocated.

The agency plans to use increased sport hunting of lions in the Upper Arkansas in a study that will last nine years.

The studies will cost about $4.5 million.

“We call on CPW to withdraw the plans, work with leading biologists to understand the existing science on the impacts of predation by carnivores to mule deer, and focus on addressing the main threats to mule deer populations including rampant fossil fuel development and habitat loss,” Bethany Cotton, wildlife program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in the group’s release.

CPW researchers have studied oil and gas development in the Piceance Basin and concluded it’s not limiting deer numbers. They say adult does are in good condition, and they want to explore whether predation may be keeping too many fawns from reaching adulthood.

Some scientists and scholars have spoken out against the projects, but the agency says past research is far from conclusive and the research is warranted. The project has the support of some sportsmen but is opposed by groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity.

CPW spokeswoman Lauren Truitt said Friday the agency hasn’t yet been served with the complaint.

“CPW declines to comment until we have been served, and have a chance to review the complaint. We typically do not comment on matters of ongoing litigation,” she said.

The suit is seeking an injunction preventing the projects from going forward and an order finding them unlawful and setting them aside.

The lawsuit contends mule deer numbers in Colorado are rising at a pace that by 2020 could result in the population reaching CPW’s goal of 501,000 to 557,000 deer. It also says the agency’s population goals fail to account for loss or degradation of historical habitat due to development.

The suit contends Amendment 14, the state constitutional measure mostly barring trapping, makes no exception for killing trapped animals when scientific research is being conducted.

The suit estimates the Roan Plateau project could result in the removal in the first year alone of more than 42 percent of lions and 21 percent of bears “in an area showing low predation by mountain lions and no predation by bears.”

It says any animals that are relocated won’t be moved far enough away to give them a high chance of survival.

In its news release, WildEarth Guardians also criticized the planned use of the federal Wildlife Services agency.

“Wildlife Services is broadly criticized for its unethical treatment of wildlife, widespread waste of public funds, lack of transparency and woefully inadequate record keeping,” the group said.


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