Hunters And Conservationists At Odds Over a Charismatic Cat

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Mountain Lion Hunting
A mountain lion sits in a dead pinon tree at the Uncompahgre Plateau near Montrose, Colo.

It's mountain lion hunting season in Colorado and that means it's an exciting time for outfitter Bill Canterbury.

"I can't compare it to any other hunt. It's just physical, demanding. We're in rough rock rugged country in the hills," said Canterbury. "You go from two to eight miles in a day and you may come home with not even seeing a lion in the tree."

Canterbury runs Track'Em Outfitters in Howard, Colo., west of Pueblo, and has been leading lion hunts for years. He says the best time to hunt cougars is when there's fresh snow, so hunters can track the animals using dogs. The idea is to coax a cat into a tree to get a good shot.

But cougar hunting has its share of critics who prefer to call it "trophy hunting" -- meaning hunters only want to mount a lion on a wall to show it off. Critics also say the manner in which lions are hunted is cruel.

"Mountain lions are hunted in some of the most barbaric ways using packs of hounds and lots of technology," said Wendy Keefover, who's with the Humane Society of the United States and is based in Denver. She doesn't see any practical reason to allow hunters to kill cougars.

Canterbury disagrees.

"I don't necessarily always just go hunt a lion for sport," he said. "There's times that we need to hunt one because of its predation on livestock. You know, mountain lions in my opinion are a great animal to eat. They make great breakfast sausage."

Colorado Parks and Wildlife manages wildlife in the state and part of its mandate is to allow regulated hunting, said Jerry Apker, who's a lion biologist with Parks and Wildlife. He said it's tough to please both sides of what has become a divisive issue.

"For some people mountain lions have a mystical sort of aura or power," said Apker. "There are also people in the state that don't particularly like mountain lions and believe that they cause problems as far as game damage and conflicts with...deer management...and so perspectives vary and that's just the difficulty task of managing [that] diversity of perspectives."

This fall, Colorado Parks and Wildlife proposed a study that would have allowed hunters to kill more lions north of the Arkansas River Valley, but conservationists successfully got the Division to table the proposal. The current statewide hunting quota for cougars is about 650, although Parks and Wildlife says past numbers indicate hunters usually kill closer to 350 or 400 a season.

Colorado Matters host Nathan Heffel spoke more about the issue with lion biologist Jerry Apker and with the Human Society's Wendy Keefover.