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Wildlife Updates 2002
The CDOW proposal which was approved would allow for the release of 50 lynx each spring in 2003, 2004, and 2005 with the further release of 10 to 12 lynx in each of the following 3 years. Right now the timing is critical for the 2003 release and the US Fish and Wildlife Service has shown no sense of urgency in working with DNR on the agreement.
As I have said before, I would much prefer a threatened status for the lynx released, but I don't believe that anymore will be released in Colorado as threatened. Further, I believe that incidental take will be minimal except for highway deaths since lynx seldom prey on lambs.
Mountain Lion Quotas
Depending on which estimate you believe, lion numbers in Colorado range anywhere from 1500 to 7500. I believe that the true population is likely to range between 2000 and 4000. In any case, lion estimates are no more than educated guesses. But quotas are based on these guesses with some pressure from the Colorado Department of Agriculture to increase "take" and (supposedly) reduce livestock predation. Sinapu has taken a strong position that quotas should be reduced to no more than 300 per year until we can determine lion populations more accurately. The DOW lion biologist, himself, believes that quotas should be reduced by at least 250, but hasn't been able to sell this position thus far within the division. I'm supporting a reduction in quotas, but I don't pretend to know what the correct number is.
Interestingly enough, Dick Ray, an outfitter and lion hunter, agrees with Sinapu that the DOW must determine populations more accurately in order to set realistic quotas in the future. Other than habitat quality and estimated territory sizes, scent stations which trap hairs when visited can help with this process. Hairs taken from the trap can be genetically analyzed to determine the number of different lions that visited the scent station. It's still not exact, but with a good effort, the DOW could more accurately estimate lion populations and thus sustainable "take". Incidentally, current research supports "take" of no more than 11% of the population in any given year. This issue, if not resolved this year, will loom even larger next year.
Black-tailed Prairie Dog
The aerial surveys have been completed but not all of the data has been compiled yet. It appears, however, that we have at least twice the prairie dog acres that were found in the EDAW survey, or more than 400,000 active acres.
Here is the goal statement the was adopted by the group.
Grassland Species Conservation Management Plan Goal Statement, August 26, 2002
"The goal of the plan is to ensure, at a minimum, the viability of the black-tailed prairie dog and associated species (such as the ferruginous hawk, burrowing owl, and mountain plover) and provide mechanisms to manage for populations beyond minimum levels, where possible, while addressing the interests/rights of private landowners."
The goal of the Eleven State Conservation Group for Colorado was 255,000 acres or 1 percent of the suitable habitat. We expect to manage to a much higher goal if we are to preserve other species as well as the prairie dog.
Black-Tailed Prairie Dog
All four county Soil Conservation Districts have closed the bidding for the initial round of the pilot landowner incentive program. Some bids have been received in each of the districts although we don't know how many at this time. Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) biologists are now evaluating the applications and will rank each one. More will be known about the success of the process within one to two weeks.
Preliminary aerial transect results in the eight northeastern counties have shown more than twice the acreage predicted from the EDAW studies. If this trend continues, Colorado may have as much as two percent of the suitable habitat occupied by active prairie dog towns. This would demand a look at higher acreage targets, particularly if we're considering a multi-species, landscape approach rather than the single species numbers recommended by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
It looks like work on the Black-tailed Prairie Dog Management Plan will finally start at the MOU meeting on March 26. The group which will work on this effort will probably be selected from those who have worked on the MOU, habitat, landowner incentive, and acreage groups over the past two or three years with others presenting their views to this smaller group. As I said before, it will be a long and arduous process.
One additional item regarding prairie dogs-Sinapu has formally requested that the Colorado Wildlife Commission establish regulations to stop all sport shooting of prairie dogs in Colorado. This would include both white-tailed and Gunnison's prairie dogs whose populations are probably in worse trouble that the black-tailed prairie dog.
I believe that the state administration is supporting another release. Their reasoning probably is as follows: Either the reintroduction will succeed and there will be no need to list in Colorado or the reintroduction will fail after we've made a good faith effort and we will have established that there is no longer suitable habitat in Colorado for lynx. From their perspective this is, then, a win-win strategy.
Sport shooting of black-tailed prairie dogs was prohibited beginning September 1,2001. Since shooting is still allowed on private lands when damage is occurring, this is, in essence, a ban on shooting on public lands. One of the positive results of this action is that we will be able to see whether prairie dog populations on National Grasslands recover or whether it was plague rather than shooting that was suppressing populations.
The pilot Landowner Incentive Program, which will pay landowners not to control prairie dogs on dry grasslands, is now in place. As you may remember, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW) has a total of $600,000 available from GOCO for this program. This money must be spent within three years. Four county Soil Conservation Districts (SCDs) have agreed to act as leasing agents for CDOW. They will take competitive bids, evaluate the suitability of habit, and sign contracts with the winning landowners. $40 million has been designated for fiscal year 2002 Interior Department Appropriations Grants through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to state fish and wildlife agencies for landowner incentive programs. This money will be distributed through competitively awarded grants to states and territories to establish, or supplement existing landowner incentive programs.
Preliminary aerial survey results for northeast Colorado will be available in December to give us a comparison with EDAW acreage data. The acreage target work group established by CDOW is continuing to meet to establish long term acreage goals for active black-tailed prairie dog colonies in Colorado. We are attempting, at the same time to set rules for what restrictions might be applied (or lifted) when acreage falls below or exceeds certain specified levels.
A preliminary prairie dog management plan is being developed by CDOW personnel and will be available by early 2002. A stakeholder group of all interested parties will be established to revise or modify this plan in order to reach a consensus among interested stakeholders. This activity will be moderated or facilitated by personnel from the CDOW Human Dimensions Group. Judging from past efforts of this kind, this could well be a long and arduous process.