Eliminating licenses for hunting bobcats was part of recently defeated legislation. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

That was fast. Senate Bill 31 — a measure that would have prohibited trophy hunting of mountain lions, bobcats and lynx in Colorado — was introduced in the state legislature on Jan. 12 and, less than 30 days later, died in committee. The state Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Eagle County rancher Kerry Donovan, voted 4-1 Thursday, Feb. 3 against moving the bill forward. The sole vote in favor came from the measure’s remaining sponsor Senator, Sonya Jacquez Lewis (D-Boulder County).

Lewis stated at Thursday’s hearing that the bill prohibits killing these cats for sport but does not ban killing them for public safety, protecting livestock or for federally-directed scientific research.

SB-22-031 was controversial from the start with lawmakers on the receiving end of torrents of emails opposing the bill. Then, in late January, three co-sponsors — Senator Joann Ginal and Representatives Judy Amabile and Monica Duran, all Democrats — dropped their support. A Jan. 29 editorial in the Boulder Daily Camera suggested that their decision was politically motivated by pressure from pro-hunting lobbyists.

But, a Feb. 3 response from the lawmakers stated they withdrew support because the bill wasn’t ready. They said that in order for an animal welfare bill to pass, people on all sides need to discuss the issue, make some concessions and buy into a viable policy. “We certainly were not cowed by the hunting lobby,” they wrote.

Lewis took the bill to committee anyway. She said she originally introduced the bill because too many mountain lions and bobcats are killed by hunters each year in Colorado.

According to statistics from Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), 383 mountain lions were killed by hunters — or “harvested” — in 2011. Lewis cited CPW stats from 2020 that showed 515 harvested that year. The peak year for mountain lion hunting was 2018, when 541 were taken.

As for bobcats, in 2013-2014, hunters killed 1,945, up from 562 a decade earlier. The Denver Post reports that more than 1,900 bobcats were killed in 2018-2019. CPW rejected a proposed ban on hunting and trapping bobcats in 2019.

“What is happening with bobcats is truly mystifying,” said Lewis. Bobcats are hunted only for their pelts. She questioned why someone would trap a bobcat and leave it in a cage for hours without food or water when pelts sell for only $50. According to Trapping Today, global fur markets are declining for a variety of reasons, including a lack of consumer demand, particularly in the U.S. Most North American bobcat pelts sell for $30 to $60 and are shipped overseas. 

Lewis explained that human development is the biggest threat to Colorado’s big cats. “But, let’s not forget transportation corridors, drought, wildfires and now this huge increase in recreational hunting,” she said. “We must reduce the unnecessary killing of these animals so they can remain resilient in the face of our changing landscape.”

Lewis said most Coloradans oppose recreational hunting of big cats. A December 2020 poll by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) shows that more than 70% oppose trophy hunting or trapping of mountain lions and bobcats. A 2019 National Shooting Sports Foundation survey showed that only 24% of those living in the West approve of trophy hunting.

But, that wasn’t the case at Thursday’s hearing. Colorado hunters and ranchers were predictably opposed to the measure, citing livestock predation, the need to control big cat populations, local economic benefits, financial support for CPW and the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation (NAMWC), which provides structure for U.S. wildlife management.

Ryan McSparran, CPW liaison for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, told the committee that S.B. 31 would “unravel” the NAMWC. “It is imperative that Colorado Parks and Wildlife retain its authority over wildlife management in making science-based decisions.” In other words, wildlife management in the state belongs in the hands of CPW and not through legislation. This was a common thread throughout opposition testimony, as was a perceived lack of scientific information from wildlife advocates at odds with CPW’s management practices.

CPW was noticeably absent from Thursday’s hearing. The agency provided no testimony, no statistics and no population numbers, largely because there are no specific population numbers for mountain lions and bobcats across the state. CPW estimates a population range of 3,000 to 7,000 cougars. Bobcat numbers continue to be reflected in harvest data. Population studies are “ongoing,” says the agency’s website.

The bill’s proponents included HSUS, Center for Biological Diversity, the Mountain Lion Foundation, and others from around the state. Redstone-based ecologist Delia Malone, who worked on the Colorado wolf reintroduction bill and the Sierra Club’s new wild horse and burro policy, advocates for preserving predators.

She explained that they enhance ecosystems and reduce trophic cascades. “Large carnivores structure ecosystems, maintaining healthy landscapes and enabling a full suite of biological diversity, from the common to the rare,” she said.