The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission last week stuck by a decision made last fall to allow the use of electronic calls to hunt mountain lions in some areas, amid continuing debate over the ethics of the practice.
The commission approved regulations allowing the practice in accordance with the Western Slope mountain lion management plan it approved in September. The electronic calls will be allowed in a new Glenwood Springs region special management area including most of the Roaring Fork Valley and parts of the Eagle Valley south of Interstate 70, and in parts of southwest Colorado near the Utah border.
The action came after commission member Jay Tutchton reiterated his opposition to the use of electronic calls and sought unsuccessfully to at least bar them from use in the applicable southwest Colorado game management units.
“I think they’re a step toward the ethical abyss,” Tutchton said of the electronic calls.
He argues that they violate the hunting ethics concept of fair chase.
Lion hunters already can use mouth calls, which bring lions to where the hunters are. But that can let lions see hunters and can potentially endanger hunters, whereas hunters can use electronic calls to attract lions to a location away from them through the use of speakers, and also to imitate the calls of different prey animals.
Tutchton said he understood using the calls in the Glenwood Springs area, where the concern is addressing human safety because of a high amount of conflicts between lions and humans. But he said he didn’t see that same concern being the case in the areas in question in southwest Colorado, and he said instead he’s only hearing it would make hunting lions easier.
“That really concerns me because I think that speaks right there to an erosion of fair chase,” he said.
Cory Chick, Southwest Region manager for Park and Wildlife, said using electronic calls is far from easy and its impact on hunting harvest levels would be minimal, with it instead just being one more tool that would be available for managing lion numbers through hunting. Parks and Wildlife is trying to address low lion harvest rates in parts of southwest Colorado.
Lion activists including the Humane Society of the United States argue that the use of the calls would draw in more female mountain lions and result in more orphaning and deaths of kittens. Wildlife Commissioner Dallas May said he thinks there’s a high probability of a female with kittens being called in and taken when an electronic call is used.
“In that case it would be three lions killed instead of one,” said May, an opponent of using electronic calls.
But JT Romatzke, Parks and Wildlife’s manager for its Northwest Region, said lions are hunted outside of the times of year when a lion with kittens would be an issue.
Some commissioners cited the need for electronic calls to help in protecting the public. Commissioner Charles Garcia said he believes in fair chase.
“But if I have a choice between fair chase and the potential loss of a young child, it’s not hard for me. I’m voting for the electronic call,” he said.
Said Commissioner Marie Haskett, “I do believe electronic calls are important in the right situation.”
Tutchton said, “I think this makes us look bad in the public perception, and I think it’s a dangerous thing when the public loses respect for the role of hunters because they believe those hunters are behaving unethically.”
Parks and Wildlife says 12 of 15 states and Canadian provinces that have lions and responded to a survey say they allow electronic calls.
Aubyn Royall, Colorado state director for the Humane Society of the United States, said in comments prepared for the wildlife commission, “We are disheartened that CPW would once again consider the use of e-calls when the agency already debated and chose not to allow their use in 2011 — even before the adoption of a fair chase policy.”