Sunday, May 20, 2007

Colo. starts new education test for cougar hunters

Sunday, May 20th 2007
By Shannon Livick - Journal Staff Writer

Hunters who wish to get a license to pursue mountain lions this year will first have to take an online course before they are granted a hunting license, following a recent decision made by the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

"In some areas of the state it was a management issue," said Tyler Baskfield, communications manager for the Division of Wildlife.

Wildlife commissioners voted unanimously this month to pass the nation's first mandatory mountain lion hunter education program. The Division of Wildlife developed the online test and certificate system. Beginning with the 2007 season, mountain lion hunters will be required to complete and pass the online test. The mountain lion season typically starts in late fall/early winter.

The online course and test educate hunters about how to tell the sex of a mountain lion and discourage them from hunting female lions.

"Female lions can have kittens at any time," Baskfield said.

The change in hunting regulations came about following a petition from an organization called Sinapu, a group dedicated to restoring and protecting native wildlife, and the Houndsmen Association, Baskfield said.

Historically, mountain lions have been regarded and treated as unwelcome predators, and at times have had bounties of up to $50 offered for one, according to the Division of Wildlife.

Today, hunters typically pursue the animals for sport.

The Division of Wildlife estimates there are between 4,000 and 7,000 mountain lions in Colorado, said Joe Lewandowski, a Durango-based public information specialist for the division. In 2005, there were 1,617 mountain lion hunting licenses given. The total number of lions killed was 238. In the southwest region, which includes the Cortez area, 13 mountain lions were killed and 22 licenses were sold.

"Hunting lions is very difficult and demanding," Lewandowski said.

Hunting lions includes tracking the elusive animal and using trained dogs to tree them.

Lewandowski said part of the reason for the online test was out of a concern about a lion and her kittens. The female lion can have kittens at any time of the year, and the education effort is to keep hunters from killing too many female lions.

The importance of female mountain lions cannot be overstated, according to the Division of Wildlife. Females begin reproducing between 1 1/2 and 2 1/2 years old. Kittens stay with their mother until they are between 11 and 18 months old. Kittens younger than 6 months old have a 66 percent chance of surviving with their mother's care. Without their mother, that number drops to 4 percent.

The online course encourages hunters to:

Contact the Division of Wildlife to learn about the management goals for the area in which the sportsperson plans to hunt.

If a management goal is to maintain or increase the mountain lion population, voluntarily refrain from shooting female lions.

Take time to determine the gender of a lion once the lion is treed.

Following a 17-page education course, which can be downloaded online at the Division of Wildlife's Web site, hunters are asked to take an interactive, online exam with 20 true/false or multiple-choice questions. Hunters must score 80 percent to pass but can take the exam again if they fail.

On the Net: View the Mountain Lion Education and Identification Course and take the exam online at wildlife.state.co.us/Hunting/HunterEducation/MtnLionEduc.

Reach Shannon Livick at shannonl@cortezjournal.com.

http://www.cortezjournal.com/asp-bin/article_generation.asp?article _type=news&article_path=/news/07/news070520_4.htm

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