This fall, as thousands of hunters head into the Roaring Fork Valley’s backcountry, they may find more mountain lions, but fewer elk. Environment reporter Elizabeth Stewart-Severy has the details of this year’s hunting landscape.
Residents and visitors in the Roaring Fork Valley this summer saw more wildlife than ever, with moose sightings in town, mountain lions on the Rio Grande Trail, and bears in all the usual places. But more animals does not necessarily mean more hunting, said Perry Will of Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW).
While the population of mountain lions — and their encounters with humans — continue to grow, hunting of the big cats has not increased in recent years. The state sets a quota, the maximum number of lions that can be killed in each geographical area, but Will said the hunters here are not filling those quotas.
“Increased lion population is, I think, a cause for concern in and around our communities. If we were more successful with hunters filling the quota each year, we would probably increase it,” Will said. “With increased lion hunting, it does make lions have more of a fear of humans.”
This time of year is crucial for CPW, the state agency that is responsible for studying and managing wildlife — and for selling hunting licenses. Hunting is the primary source of revenue for the agency.
“Populations of wildlife in Colorado are managed through hunting,” said spokesman Mike Porras. “It’s a very big and very important part of Colorado’s economy.”
In a 2014 study, CPW found that, through license sales, associated tourism, and more, hunting generates a total of $45 million in Eagle, Garfield, and Pitkin counties. The industry also sustains nearly 600 jobs in those areas. Statewide, hunting contributes nearly $1 billion to the economy.
This year, CPW plans to shrink the elk herd because the habitat can’t sustain current numbers. Some of this reduction will be through hunting, but much will happen naturally. Perry Will said that the number of calves that survive winter has fallen by about 50 percent.
The public lands that are prime elk habitat are closed to recreation from December through May or June, and Will said it’s important that people stay out.
“When we have these winter closures on our public lands, that’s why, to protect wintering wildlife. That’s their tough time of year, that’s their stress time,” Will said. “You make it or break it come winter.”
As the herd shrinks, there will be fewer animals to hunt, so hunters can expect to see fewer licenses for elk in upcoming years.