Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Colorado county delays decision on cougar study

By John Fryar
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee members voted 7-2 on Thursday night to postpone deciding whether to recommend that Boulder County participate in a mountain lion movement and behavior study being proposed by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Most committee members indicated they felt they needed more specific details about the research the DOW is suggesting for capturing, collaring and tracking six cougars ranging in parts of Boulder and Jefferson counties where there are likely to be encounters between those big cats and humans.

One potentially controversial part of the study would involve tests of “aversive conditioning techniques” — including firing bean bags at mountain lions that get too close to human-frequented areas or chasing them with dogs — to see whether those would be effective in getting the individual cougars to avoid those areas in the future.

“I really am opposed to collaring a lion that’s minding its own business,” Sugarloaf Mountain resident Marsha Barber told the county parks panel, and she said she’d be “totally opposed” to aversive conditioning.

Jim McKee of Longmont, however, expressed his strong support for the DOW proposal, saying the information collected could be “as important to the lions as it is to the people who live here.”

McKee warned that lion attacks on humans could renew calls for allowing the hunting of cougars on county open space, even though “hunting doesn’t seem to reduce aggressiveness in lions.”

David Baron of Boulder, a volunteer naturalist for the County Open Space and Parks Department, also endorsed the DOW’s study proposal, saying “there’s a lot that’s not known about mountain lions, particularly in areas like this.”

But Wendy Keefover-Ring, the organization Sinapu’s carnivore-protection director, questioned what the Division of Wildlife’s goals and protocols for the study are. She asked, for example, how the DOW would decide which lions to haze in its aversive-conditioning experiments.

DOW officials had asked the Parks and Open Space Advisory Committee to consider such issues as whether to grant access to county open space lands for the study, and what methods Boulder County would consider acceptable for capturing the lions for the study, such as by using cage traps baited with deer carcasses or by cornering lions with hounds. Also being sought were the county panel’s opinions about acceptable techniques of aversive conditioning.

While Jefferson County already has agreed to the study on its open space, and while DOW officials are to make a presentation next week to Boulder city officials about using that city’s mountain open space, it now may be at least late April before the Boulder County parks panel will revisit the issue and forward its decision to the Board of County Commissioners.

http://www.longmontfyi.com/Local-Story.asp?id=15360

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