The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission (CPW) is looking to cull local populations of black bears and mountain lions to allow mule deer in the state to recover in number.
CPW commissioners voted unanimously on Wednesday, Dec. 14, to carry out the controversial plan to kill up to 25 black bears and 15 mountain lions living in the Piceance Basin every year starting in the spring of 2017.
Some of the bears and mountain lions that will not be part of the culling will instead be relocated to a different site.
The CPW hopes that more mule deer fawns will be able to survive once there only a few predators left in the wild.
Plans have also been made to conduct a nine-year study to find out how the density of mountain lion populations in Colorado affects mule deer populations. The state will pay $435,000 every year to fund this study.
The wildlife population management initiative is expected to cost Colorado $4.5 million to carry out.
Dwindling Mule Deer Populations
Chris Castilian, one of the CPW commissioners who voted on the plan, said their goal is to understand what is contributing to the decline in mule deer populations.
Castilian pointed out that as stewards of mule deer populations, they should be very sensitive to the animals' concerns.
However, some scientists argue that the state's wildlife population management plan contradicts its own science.
Biologists Barry Noon, Kevin Crooks and Joel Berger from Colorado State University wrote to the commission, stating that the drop in mule deer numbers is not caused by predators but by the lack of enough food, loss of habitat and disturbances caused by humans.
The scientists said deer habitats in Colorado have been fragmented because of road constructions as well as gas and oil drilling. Some animal homes in the wild have also been rendered inhospitable because of other developments.
Noon and his colleagues pointed out that the commission is not using its own scientific findings as basis for a better action plan that would benefit mule deer populations.
The CPW refuted the claims made by Noon and his colleagues, arguing that ongoing studies of mule deer population in the Piceance Basin point to predation as the most likely factor for the number drop.
"Habitat is a primary focus in other areas where habitat may be more limiting than the two areas where the influence of predation is being examined," the commission said.