Parks and Wildlife take the easy way out on lions, ATV, OHVs in Colorado

The 2013-2014 mountain lion season was extended into April in action taken Thursday by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission. The move poses a challenge for hunters who will need to renew their licenses at the end of March, 2014.



QUICKREAD

Robert Garcia



Whether it was debating off-highway vehicle regulations or the length of mountain lion-hunting seasons, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission during its meeting Thursday showed a familiar desire to stick with what seems safe.

As reported earlier in these pages, four southwest Colorado counties — Hinsdale, Ouray, San Miguel and San Juan — have adopted ordinances requiring ATV and OHV operators to possess a driver’s license and insurance.

The license requirement means a 16-year age minimum while state regulations allow anyone 10 years old to operate off-highway vehicles without an operator’s license.

Because the county regulations are stricter than the state, the counties sought Parks and Wildlife Commission approval, which would make them eligible for state grants funding enforcement officers.

But the commission postponed a decision, saying it would take up the matter after more study.

It’s a touchy subject, as one person close to the commission said. Individually the commissioners might approve of the counties’ move to safer vehicle operators and reduced environmental damage, but as a state body there’s the “What if?” question.

Such as, having given leeway to one region, what if other regions adopt maverick regulations?

If the four counties are given rein to adopt tighter ATV regulations, what’s to stop another county to ban completely ATVs/OHVs?

Or, in a worst-case scenario, to ban hunting seasons?

If you think either of those is far-fetched, you haven’t been paying close enough attention to the divisive issues of off-highway vehicles or unpopular hunting seasons.

In the case of the latter, the commission’s decision Thursday to extend the mountain lion hunting season by a month to April 30, an effort to “aid in achieving the goals for harvest,” makes a lot of Coloradans squirm.

“The season extension is based on no scientific evidence,” said Wendy Keefover of the conservation group WildEarth Guardians.

Exactly like other wildlife populations, researchers are stumped when asked for exact lion numbers.

Populations for years have been estimated using annual hunter-kill data, and currently Colorado Parks and Wildlife is in the final phases of a 10-year lion study on the Uncompahgre Plateau testing the accuracy of those population estimates.

Last year, citing “increased sightings and observations,” the commission raised the statewide lion quota for the 2012–13 season by 12 to 630.

However, according to Cougar Management Guidelines (2005, Opal Creek Press, Salem, Ore.), developed by a group of leading mountain lion researchers, “Reports of cougar sightings are the least reliable way to index cougar populations.”

Most if not all of the commissioners received numerous emails about the longer season, a development that commissioner Dean Wingfield, sounding an awful lot like someone still living in the 1970s, called “mob mentality” in an email to Wendy Keefover.

“If you want to be taken seriously on this issue, I would recommend you have the mob emails currently being sent to the Commissioners (sic) stop,” wrote Wingfield, who hails from Vernon, a small farming community in Yuma County.

Whether or not a commissioner agrees with the sender of so-called “mob emails,” receiving them, and understanding why so many people are interested, is found under the heading of being responsible to the public.

The state’s wildlife belongs to the public and whether the public wants its wildlife protected by controlling underage kids hot-rodding around on Daddy’s ATV or having some scientific basis for how many lions are killed, such decisions require wandering a bit farther out on the limb, if for no other reason than to improve the view.


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