Posted 2 years ago

By Post Staff

Mountain lion mapThe Nebraska Game and Parks Commission took about 90 minutes of testimony this morning in Chadron on a proposed mountain lion hunting season, then postpone action until its next meeting in July.

The commission received nearly 30 written comments before the hearing…nearly all opposing the hunting season…then heard live testimony from 20 others…about 2/3rds of them in favor of hunting mountain lions and several calling for listing the big cats as predators that could be shot on sight.

Commissioner Rex Fisher of Omaha, the lone at-large member, proposed the two month delay. He says they received a lot of information that should be studied before making a decision.

“I just think there were enough issues and considerations that came up in the testimony here today that we need to factor them in, as simple as that. We need a season, but we need to factor in some other things that were brought up.”

The proposed hunting season, drafted by NGPC staffers over the past 6 months, would be limited to the Pine Ridge from January through March with a 6-day break in mid-January.

There would be a maximum of 3 lions taken, no more than 1 female, with 100 permits to be awarded to Nebraska residents through a lottery and 1 permit to be sold at auction…as is done with the state’s big horn sheep permits. Application fees and auction proceeds would go to the mountain lion management program.

NGPC Furbearer and Carnivore Manager Sam Wilson estimated the permanent population of mountain lions in the Pine Ridge since last summer’s wildfires at 15-to-22…enough to allow hunters to take 3 and still meet the agency’s objective of keeping a sustainable population of cougars at or near current levels.

A common concern expressed by many of those testifying was that the mountain lions in the Pine Ridge don’t appear to be afraid of people, with several saying they’re finding tracks of one or more cougars in the yards of their rural homes.

Dawes County Commissioner Stacy Swinney, who’s pushing to have the commission expand to add a member from northwest Nebraska, said the mountain lion population is “somewhere between disarray and chaos” with the loss of habitat to fire and needs to be taught to be afraid of humans.

Others pointed to mountain lions as a major reason for a drop in the number of big horn sheep in the region, although agency staffers said they’ve found no evidence of direct kills

Commission member Dr Kent Forney represents Lincoln, but grew up on a ranch south of Rushville and says he understands completely how area residents feel about the risks posed by mountain lions.

“I’m very concerned about the public safety (threat) that these lions pose. I want to make sure these kids in this area are safe and not in jeopardy.  I think that we should take a look at it, make sure we’re doing the right thing, and possibly expand the season.”

Although the only breeding population of mountain lions is in the Pine Ridge, with the possible exception of a female in the Niobrara Valley, individual males have been confirmed as wandering to all parts of the state. That had Forney and several witnesses proposing the lion season be made statewide.

A number also called for letting hunters use dogs…so-called “chase hunting” as opposed to “boot hunting…because when mountain lions flee into trees to get away from dogs, it’s easier for hunters to tell if the big cat is male or female…reducing the risk of killing a mother with kittens.

NGPC staff opposed the use of dogs, saying it gives chase hunters a clear advantage over boot hunters, but pointed outh that the proposed season rules do allow the buyer of the auction permit and the first 4 pemits drawn in the lottery to be able to use dogs in the second half of the season.

One of the few people to testify against any hunting season was Black Hills Audubon Society president Nancy Hilding of Rapid City.

She cited studies from other states that show a sport hunting season actually increases the risk to humans from mountain lions by removing dominant males and leaving more young males…the animals more likely to come in contact with people.