COLORADO

On Jan. 11, the Colorado Wildlife Commission approved a nine-year, $2.6 million coyote-killing experiment in western Colorado.

Some deer hunters, outfitters and sheep ranchers in the state have lobbied long and hard for coyote control, blaming the predators for a plummeting deer population. Deer have declined in Colorado for 40 years, and biologists say the population is 15 percent smaller than it should be.

The experiment was recommended by a Legislature-appointed advisory council, which reviewed state predator-management policies last year. The state wildlife agency plans to compare fawn survival in a coyote-killing area with a non-killing area. Coyotes are to be shot from the ground, since poison and leg-hold traps were banned by a voter-approved state amendment in 1996; the commissioners hope to defuse opposition by banning aerial gunning.

Wildlife activists doubt the experiment will prove anything. "This is bad science, bad economics and bad politics," said Mike Smith, chairman of the wildlife committee for the Colorado Sierra Club chapter.

No study has ever found that predator control substantially bolsters deer herds. Biologists say that busy highways and new housing, along with competition from burgeoning elk herds, are more likely causes for deer decline. Another problem is fire suppression, which has led to loss of sagebrush habitat.

Hunters and ranchers agree that deer habitat is in trouble, but some say that predation is easier to remedy. The experiment has secured state funding for its first year, and the plan is to be in place before March 1.

Copyright 2001 HCN and Allen Best