By Scott Smith
Will mountain lions, as well as their smaller feline cousins—bobcats and lynx—get a reprieve from the licensed hunters and trappers who kill hundreds of these native cats in Colorado each year?
Yes, if 124,238 of the state’s voters have anything to say about it. That’s the number of in-person signatures of registered Colorado voters needed to sign a petition to put a ballot initiative that would ban trophy hunting of mountain lions and trapping of bobcats and lynx to a vote in the 2024 general election.
Friends of Animals, whose Wildlife Law Program is based in Centennial, Colo., is just one of the many advocacy groups endorsing the ballot proposal filed on Sept. 22, 2023 by the Cats Aren’t Trophies coalition.
“The senseless trophy hunting of mountain lions in Colorado must be stopped,” says Jennifer Best, director of FoA’s Wildlife Law Program. “Colorado Parks & Wildlife should recognize that not only is trophy hunting unethical, barbaric, and a threat to the ecosystems of Colorado, but the majority of our 5.7 million residents do not agree with it, and only 0.03% of Coloradans participate in the blood sport. Why are we catering to the few hunters whose idea of fun is to kill one of the most beautiful animals in Colorado?”
The hunting of mountain lions in Colorado happens almost exclusively with the use of packs of dogs who attack and chase the lion until it’s cornered—typically up in a tree with no escape. The Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commission’s 2020-21 Cougar Management Plan also allows hunters to use electronic distress calls. E-calls mimic the sound of an injured animal, typically a deer, to lure mountain lions within range.
“This is all about trophy hunting,” wrote three founders of the CATs group in an editorial published by the Times-Call. “Trophy hunters pay outfitters as much as $8,000 for a 100% guaranteed kill and are led to the tree after the guide and his dogs have treed the lion. The hunter then shoots the lion off of a tree branch—the moral and sporting equivalent of shooting a lion in a cage at a zoo.”
According to a 2023 study by Colorado State University, 80 percent of Coloradans disapprove of trophy hunting mountain lions, with an even higher disapproval rate (88 percent) for using hounds to chase them into trees.
The value of an apex predator
With millions of acres of prime habitat, Colorado is believed to have the highest population of mountain lions of any state in the U.S. Estimates of the elusive Felis concolor (meaning “cat of one color”), commonly known as cougar, panther or puma, range between 3,000 and 7,000 animals in the state.
That’s a far cry from a population as low as 124 mountain lions just 60 years ago, following nearly a century of being relentlessly hunted as a “bountied predator,” with the state paying hunters $3 to $50 per pelt.
After designating mountain lions as a big game species in 1965, CPW opened the floodgates to hunters and the license fees they generate. The number of mountain lions killed for trophy hunting has increased steadily over the years, averaging around 300-400 mountain lions per year in the early 2000s, up to nearly 500 per year from 2016-2021, according to the Mountain Lion Federation. Bafflingly, CPW requires that all edible parts of killed lions be prepared for human consumption, which FoA calls utter rubbish.
As an apex predator, mountain lions are critical to maintaining a healthy and balanced Colorado ecosystem by preying on deer, elk, and small animals. By leaving a significant portion of the carcasses of their prey, mountain lions also help feed and support 39 species of birds and mammals.
The call for a statewide petition in Colorado comes after the failure of Senate Bill 31, legislation to end the hunting and trapping of mountain lions, bobcat and lynx in Colorado, introduced in January 2022 by Senator Jaquez Lewis. The bill died in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on February 3.
“Time and time again, the powers that be in Colorado show themselves beholden to the hunting lobby and the meat industry’s ranchers, whether it’s dragging their feet about reintroducing wolves or refusing to protect wild horses,” says Priscilla Feral, president of Friends of Animals. “Now it’s time for these corrupt special interests to be forced by the vast majority of Colorado citizens to accept that these beautiful big cats deserve to be respected—to live their lives free and wild, not blasted out of a tree.”
Take Action: How to help Colorado ban big-cat trophy hunting
The deadline to submit signatures to the Secretary of State for the 2024 election is 5 p.m., August 5, 2024. To volunteer with the citizen’s initiative to ban the trophy hunting of mountain lions and bobcats on the 2024 ballot, click here or go to www.catsarenttrophies.org.