By Mark Watson
Black Hills Pioneer
BLACK HILLS The sixth mountain lion season in the state opens Saturday and the recent snowfall should make for excellent tracking opportunities.
This year, the harvest quota was increased again, but this will mark the first year hunters will be permitted to pursue the large cats inside Custer State Park.
Up to 10 licenses may be sold, for $150 each, for the Custer State Park season. Only five lions may be killed within the 71,000-acre state park during the inaugural season.
John Kanta, regional wildlife manager with the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks, said an estimated 18 lions are within Custer State Park, according to the radio-collar tracking of lions throughout the Black Hills.
Outside Custer State Park, wildlife officials set a quota of 45 lions, or 30 females. This is an increase of five lions total and five more females from the 2010 quotas.
If the quotas are not reached, the season ends on March 31.
The move to increase the number of lions killed comes following the publication of a state-wide mountain lion management plan that called for the population to be reduced to about 175 lions. Currently there are an estimated 225 lions in South Dakota’s Black Hills.
“It’s two paths to the same destination,” said Tony Leif, the State Game, Fish and Parks department’s wildlife division director, at an October meeting that set the quotas. “One is a safer route that offers more stability, but you chose one that will get you there a little faster. Both will get you to the same destination.”
South Dakota State University researcher Jonathan Jenks said the target population of 175 could be reached by 2013 through harvests of 45 lions annually for the next few seasons. He said the harvest could be backed down to 30 or 35 annually after that, which would put the quotas along the lines of the 2007 and 2009 hunting season.
Officials said that the reduction in mountain lions within the Black Hills would reduce the occurrence of problem lions and removal of those lions by the department. About 40 percent fewer lions would be killed by cars. It would increase health in the population and the reduction of disease, and prevent about 1,650 fewer big game animals from being killed annually by the big cats.
Hunters who kill a mountain lion within the Black Hills must submit it for inspection to the department’s Rapid City office within 24 hours. Successful hunters must call 394-2394 during working hours or state radio at 393-8121 during nights and weekends to report a kill and to arrange for inspection.
Hunters are encouraged to see if the quota has been reached prior to going hunting by logging onto the department’s Web site www.gfp.sd.gov. The information can be found under the mountain lion tab. Hunters who kill a lion after the season has been closed can be cited.
Hunters must also wear blaze orange as mountain lions are big game animals.
In the 2010 mountain lion season, 40 lions were killed in 41 days. It was the first time in the five years of the hunting season that the full quota was reached before the female sub quota. Sixteen males were killed and 24 females were killed. The sub quota was set at 25 female lions. Nearly 2,100 hunters bought licenses for the 2010 hunt.
Using a predator call to attract the lions remains the option with the highest success rate, although tracking the lions through snow and spotting and stalking the animals remain proven methods.
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