Predators & Colorado’s Parks & Wildlife Commission

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Although I am a Colorado Parks & Wildlife Commissioner, the views expressed are solely my own and in particular not the views of CPW, staff, other commissioners, or anyone else in state government.

Last week in Ft. Collins, the Commission held a final hearing on whether to approve a limited plan to kill slightly more mountain lions and bears than hunters already kill in small portions of the Piceance Basin on the Western Slope and the Arkansas River Valley. The purpose of these experiments would be to determine if predation played a role in mule deer decline in those areas.  CPW scientists had determined via scientific observation and studies that development and nutrition were not the causes of mule deer decline in these geographies. Additionally, preliminary direct science indicated that lions and bears were killing an unusual amount of fawns in the spring birthing season.

Over the course of the last 18 months the Commission heard public testimony from its own scientists and from members of the public on the science and policy.  Although, I missed a few meetings this summer while undergoing cancer treatment I reviewed all the meetings online.  At no time did a scientist testify live at a Commission meeting contesting CPW’s science.  To my knowledge no major media outlet including the Denver Post or the Denver television stations attended a Commission hearing discussing these experiments before last week’s hearing.

However, as the final hearing approached various groups on the left side of the conservation movement began an email and media campaign.  They also organized a letter from a group of scientists questioning the validity of CPW’s proposed experiments.  Some, but not all, of these scientists are recognized experts in the ecology of predators, prey, and the environment with relevant experience to Colorado.

None of them chose to appear at any Commission meeting to testify.  Once CPW’s scientists rebutted these scientists in writing and in open testimony none of these scientists were available to further contest the science.

Some members of the press, particularly the Denver Post, made much of another letter written by three CSU professors delivered for the first time less than a week before the final hearing.  Despite the Commission meeting being in Fort Collins approximately three miles from CSU, none of these scientists appeared to testify at the meeting.

Thus, CPW’s scientists in public meeting after public meeting and in listening sessions around the state presented their science, underwent public questioning and criticism, rebutted much of that criticism and changed the experiment protocols in response to other criticism.  The other group of scientists did not attend and did not subject their science to public questioning and criticism.

It is hard to understand how the Commission could have favored an absent group of scientists over scientists willing to endure the heat of multiple public events.

In response to the email and letter campaign that began in the final weeks of the 18 months, CPW staff presented hundreds of pages of studies and material for commissioners to review.  I speak only for myself, but the conclusion I reached was that predator control is controversial and is neither a magic bullet nor always wrong. Most scientists call for more careful science based research to understand its use in limited geographies and ecologies. Finally, every single elected official of the many who wrote to or testified before the Commission were in favor of the two experiments. Not one opposed them.

And it is important to note given the press coverage – these are two geographically and biologically small science experiments under tight controls, not a statewide management plan or indeed a management plan of any kind.  The outcome of the experiments may establish predator control is ineffective, ambiguous, or effective in these limited geographic areas.  We are not about to go back to the era of bounties and wholesale killing of predators.

But what are the larger lessons of this Commission meeting?

I would suggest:

  1. That groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, the Endangered Species Coalition, Wild Earth Guardians, the Sierra Club, and others should attend all Commission meetings.
  2. These groups should have their scientists give scientific testimony at Commission meetings subject to the rigors of public questioning and criticism.

And as I made clear in my comments in the meeting their participation, particularly scientific participation, would be welcome and an important contribution to the Commission’s work.

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