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Anti-hunting measures would deceive voters | OPINION

  • By Carson Gilchrist and Ted Benge

  • Jan 30, 2024 from Colorado Politics


A non-hunting friend once asked, with genuine curiosity, "If your true goal is the meat, why do you keep the head?”

The question motivated me to examine a practice I had never truly thought about — keeping the head or hide is just something I do. I realized the animal parts I do not turn into food honor my spiritual connection with hunting, the animals I pursue and the people with whom I share the experience.

Once the last package of meat disappears from the freezer, antlers may be all that remain to honor the animal; not as a "trophy” or for bragging rights, but as recognition of its life. I revere the animals I hunt.

When I look at a skull or hide, I can smell the pine needles underfoot and see the yellow aspen leaves falling in sheets through the crisp fall air. I can feel the snowflakes catch on my face. I remember the effort, focus, sadness, intensity and gratitude. In one glance, I am taken back to the moment, and feel the tightness in my muscles from field-dressing the animal and carrying the quarters from the mountains. Seeing the relic, even years later, acknowledges I killed the animal, for food, like countless generations of humans before me.

Hunters detest the idea of hunting animals without respect, for a photo and a prize; in other words, the common conception of “trophy hunting.”

Yet, this term is being employed by the backers of Colorado ballot Initiatives No. 91 and No. 101 to mislead voters at the ballot box in November.

Both potential ballot measures seek to undermine science-based wildlife management, and portray ethical hunting in a negative light in an attempt to ban or severely limit the regulated hunting of mountain lions and bobcats.

It is important for voters to understand the facts and underlying complexities.

Science-based wildlife management is the most effective method for preserving our wild heritage. Hunters have a vested interest in healthy and balanced wildlife populations. Well regulated hunting is a critical tenet of the North American Model of Conservation, which is the leading model worldwide for the restoration and preservation of wildlife populations. For example, active management by hunter-funded fish and wildlife management agencies enabled the recovery of our nation’s elk herds from the brink of extinction at the dawn of the 20th century to more than 1.1 million today.

Similarly, with respect to mountain lions, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) relies on science to implement a management plan to “preserve, protect, enhance and manage” stable mountain lion populations (West Slope Management Plan). Hunting is a core pillar of the strategy and their website states there is no evidence hunting negatively affects population stability.

This science-based model has proven successful not only with other species, but with mountain lion populations elsewhere in the U.S. The CPW notes “newer lion populations in South Dakota, North Dakota, and Nebraska are now established due to wildlife agency management.” Additionally, revenue generated through the sale of hunting licenses and equipment represents a major source of funding for CPW’s cat research and population monitoring.

The commonly accepted concept of “trophy hunting” is already illegal and the proposals leverage this familiar misunderstanding to intentionally misguide voters.

The use of the term “trophy hunting” is misleading and has been used to falsely vilify mountain lion hunters in Colorado. The term implies hunters seek only the hide and skull of the lions they hunt, which is not only unethical, but illegal and a felony act under current law. State law already requires all edible parts of lions be properly prepared for human consumption (see: Mountain Lion Regulation Brochure). Hunters are also compelled by law to remove the lion’s skull and hide and submit them to the CPW for research and data collection.

The prohibition of trophy hunting is already enshrined in law, rendering the proposed ballot measures redundant.

The bill carries the potential to set a dangerous precedent, one that could be used to disrupt hunting and wildlife management more broadly.

The ballot initiative No. 91 defines “trophy hunting” as any pursuit of an animal rather than the commonly accepted definition of killing an animal solely for its head or hide. Ballot initiative No. 101 seeks to severely limit cat hunting methods and seasons. Both proposed ballot measures would effectively outlaw legitimate hunting for mountain lion meat and set a precedent that could be used to challenge hunting of elk, deer, waterfowl, etc. more generally in the future.

Hunters share a connection with the animals they hunt and value the cycle of life that feeds our families. As our food chain becomes more industrialized, and humans are ever more removed from the reality of the food they eat, it is vital to preserve the opportunity for people to harvest natural food. Similar to the meat of elk, deer, bear, duck or any other species hunted in Colorado, mountain lion meat is prized table fare for hunters.

Wildlife management decisions should be based on science.

“Ballot box biology” risks oversimplifying complex environmental and cultural issues. Ballot initiatives like No. 91 and No. 101 are intentionally written to provoke an emotional response among voters, in this case based on pretexts. If a ban on cat hunting appears on the ballot in 2024, voters should take the time to fully understand the issue by speaking with state wildlife biologists to understand the management science, and with hunters to learn their true motivations.

Carson Gilchrist is a cattle rancher from Basalt. He is an avid skier, hiker and bowhunter. Ted Benge is a native of Carbondale. He has been hunting since the age of 5 and is the president of Western Slope Wildlife Advocates, a grassroots coalition of Western Slope locals whose mission is to advocate, through action and education, for conservation and restoration of wildlife populations and their habitat on Colorado’s Western Slope.

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