Update – Feb. 7: A bill that would have banned the hunting of mountain lions and bobcats in Colorado died in committee last week. The bill was postponed indefinitely by the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee in a 4-1 vote, with Senators Kerry Donovan, Rhonda Fields, Don Coram, and Jerry Sonnenberg, voting against it. Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis, the bill’s only remaining sponsor, represented the only vote in favor of the bill.
Hunters and livestock owners are hoping for a quick and painless death, but a bill pushing for a Colorado mountain lion, lynx, and bobcat hunting ban is still holding on by a claw, even after three of the bill’s four sponsors have retracted their support.
Sen. Joann Ginal went on record recently to offer her rationale for taking a step back from Senate Bill 31, which would prohibit all hunting of the state’s three big cats.
“I have long stood up for animal rights at the legislature, and I am committed to following the science and ensuring that we manage Colorado’s wildlife in a way that works for everyone, including the animals themselves,” Ginal said. “SB22-031 does not have the support from folks on the ground, career wildlife management scientists, and advocacy groups it needs, which is why I am pulling my support from the bill.”
Former sponsors of the bill, Rep. Judy Amabile and Rep. Monica Duran followed Ginal’s example and bailed, leaving Sen. Sonya Jaquez Lewis as the sole sponsor.
The bill was initially drafted in response to pressure from the Humane Society of Colorado about the use of electronic calls to hunt mountain lions.
Electronic calls are expressly prohibited in most parts of the state, but their use is permitted in a few specific game management units. Handheld or mechanical calls are still legal to use.
The proposed legislation would prohibit the killing of any big cat unless the animal poses an immediate threat of harm to a person or presents an immediate threat to livestock.
Regardless of the bill’s fate, it would not change the status of the lynx since the animal is already protected.
Hunters are understandably frustrated. Brian Lynn, Vice President of Communications for the Sportsman’s Alliance, sees this as a larger move against hunting in Colorado and beyond.
“Colorado hunters have been under attack by animal-rights activists for years. This bill isn’t just a Colorado issue, and it’s not just a predator-hunting issue,” Lynn said. “Senate Bill 22-0331 is an issue for every deer and elk hunter in Colorado, and for every non-resident hunter who has dreamed, saved money for, and plans to hunt the state in the future.”
For ranchers like Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a ban would run counter to management efforts that are currently working.
“If your ecosystem is based on hunting and controlling ecosystems, you take that tool away, and all of a sudden, you upset an ecosystem,” Sonnenberg said. “That means potentially more attacks on wildlife as well, deer and elk and antelope and other wildlife. I find those types of bills frustrating. Even though it allows hunters to protect their livestock, oftentimes it’s too late.”
Mountain lion hunters in Colorado are currently required to take a Mountain Lion Education Exam before they are issued a license to hunt the big cat. Hunters must also check daily updates to the lion harvest limit report before hunting in case their GMU reaches its limit, and CPW closes it for hunting.
Hunters and trappers in Colorado kill around 2,000 bobcats each year.
Even though three sponsors have bailed, the bill has been sent to the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee for a hearing on Feb. 3. So, as Lloyd Christmas says, there’s still a chance.
“I would say that the bill is not on solid ground,” Rep. Matt Soper said. “I think the real question is, will the bill be amended heavily, or will it die in committee? I think that’s what the real questions are going to be. I’d like to see it die in committee; to me, I think this is bad policy for Colorado.”