by Phil Phillips - Monday, February 25, 2019
“Mountain Lions Roaming a Colorado Town in Pack up to 10 Troubles Officials.” You think? That was just one of the headlines coming from what is technically known as the Centennial State but may be better known as the mountain lion state. Fox News reported Friday how Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) is addressing increasing human encounters with the big cats. For residents like me, this headline from GearJunkie.com that same day was just as unsettling: “Pride of Mountain Lions Roaming CO Town Prompts Government Warning to Residents.”
So there you have it. Residents of Edwards, Colo., just received a warning from (CPW) officials to be on high alert as a group of eight to 10 mountain lions is “roaming neighborhoods in the community.” The warning came after CPW acknowledged it has received increasing reports of eyewitness sightings, suspicious animal carcasses, and encounters and attacks on neighborhood dogs. Officials believe there are two female lions each traveling with a litter of three to four juvenile lions that are “nearly full grown, as large, or possibly larger, than their mother.” You know it’s serious when a local officials are encouraging a community to beware of an entire pride.
In an online statement on Thursday, CPW Northwest Regional Manager J.T. Romatzke said, “This is a troubling situation and we are very concerned for the safety and welfare of the people in this area. We ask everyone to take this warning seriously.”
CPW District Wildlife Manager Matt Yamashita added, “We urge residents to be extremely cautious because lions are large, powerful predators and can be very dangerous if they've lost their natural fear of people. We are monitoring the situation very closely.”
As for the lions losing their fear of people, Yamashita believes the adult female lions are teaching their young to hunt within a human populated area. “Considering we are talking about nearly full-grown lions, this is not a sustainable situation,” he said. “We will take the appropriate management action as necessary, but what the action will be remains to be seen and will be based on our assessment of public risk and the lion's behavior going forward.” Reading in between the lines, this likely means officials will have to kill some or all of these cats where, by establishing a larger hunting quota, they could have avoided the circumstances altogether. For now, the CPW asks that those who see a mountain lion in a residential area contact officials immediately and keep a safe distance.
Edwards, Colo., events are unfolding two weeks after another Colorado mountain lion incident made headlines. On Feb. 5, Travis Kauffman, 31, was attacked by a young mountain lion in broad daylight while jogging on West Ridge Trail in northern Colorado’s Larimer County foothills. Kauffman fought off, strangled and killed the lion, sustaining puncture wounds all over his body and needing more than 20 stitches on his face. He later shared with Fox News how his “fear response turned into more of a fight response” as he wrestled with the cat. Listen to Kauffman’s interview here.
In news accounts out of Edwards, CPW estimates there are 3,000 to 7,000 mountain lions roaming statewide, adding, “We have more lions than ever before” in some areas. With this many lion encounters, I wouldn’t be surprised if this estimate is low.
While many states have mountain lions, Colorado seems to be a front-runner when it comes to increasing human-lion encounters. But this is nothing new. In August 2018, you may recall Fox News reporting that a woman near Boulder, Colo., got surprised upon arriving home to find a mountain lion sitting between the coffee table and couch. Boulder law enforcement officials said the cat appeared to have gotten in through the screen door—and proceeded to kill the woman’s house cat. Be aware that these incidents are not isolated to a certain area as reports of cat encounters are now reported statewide.
Food for Thought: Why Predator and Prey Species Alike Must Be Managed
Over the past few weeks while I was away attending trade shows, a good friend, rancher and outfitter I’ve known since high school attended a public meeting on Colorado’s Western Slope put on by the CPW. The purpose was to discuss the state’s declining deer and elk populations. He said many of the people in the room pointed to issues with predators. Each time, the folks from CPW said they were not convinced predators were the problem. When CPW brought up the fact the elk in our area simply were having a much lower calf survival rate than the area around Craig, Colo., for example, my friend’s hand shot up. He said it was easy to figure out why. Craig’s elk numbers were solid as there are numerous sheep ranchers there who practice heavy predator control. If a lion gets into their sheep, the state sends a government hunter to take it out. In our area, there are no sheep ranchers and the lion quota is so low that we can’t begin to control the population. Just as with every other person who brought up predators, the state folks told him they did not have data to support that theory.
Like me, my rancher buddy has spent his whole life in the field. Like many other avid Colorado outdoorsmen, we can see the consequences when predators in some areas are not managed and take a toll on our deer and elk.
Having just returned from the Western Hunting and Conservation Expo in Salt Lake City, Utah, last week, speakers representing the Mule Deer Foundation and Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife both shared valuable information during the evening banquets. They specifically shared some statistics on how their aggressive predator control over the past few years has had a positive impact on their deer and elk populations. Could it be that Colorado Parks and Wildlife is not doing enough to manage its predators?
What to Do if You Encounter a Mountain Lion
For advice from CPW and the National Park Service on the steps to take if you cross paths with a mountain lion, start with remaining upright to appear large and intimidating and never turning your back.
About the Author: NRA Life member, award-winning outdoor TV host and recreational real estate associate broker Phil Phillips of Hayden Outdoors has hunted five continents, taking more than 200 big-game animals and nearly 60 species worldwide. Prior to hosting hunting programs, he started Colorado's first Ranching for Wildlife Program for antelope, which he ran for 15 years. Working alongside professional land managers to restore and protect habitat, Phil went on to guide clients to 500-plus big-game animals that have qualified for the record book. In 1992 Safari Club International honored him as the North American Bowhunting Outfitter of the Year. Phillips writes regularly about predator issues, including those involving mountain lions, from Colorado to Arizona and Washington State. You can mail him at [email protected].
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