S. Dakota sets lion quota higher than even staff recommends

“The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department Commission (given federal guidelines as part of an official state agency and entrusted by the public to manage wildlife) was given a clear recommendation by the state’s wildlife biologists for setting the limits on mountain lion hunting. The SDGF&P Commission decided to throw caution to the wind at last Friday’s gathering and gave in to requests from local hunters wanting more fun. The Commission then increased the mountain lion quota beyond the maximum number put forth by state biologists — a limit that was already considered by many groups as way too high to begin with. No longer following any shred of scientific advice or the overall public opinion, the SDGF&P Commission has decided it is only interested in pleasing its hunting friends. Unfortunately, the juvenile actions and poor decision-making may very well result in mountain lions being completely wiped out of the state….Mountain Lion Foundation”

For the second straight year, the state Game, Fish & Parks Commission is proposing a mountain lion season that would kill more cats than its staff recommended.

Meeting in Aberdeen on Friday, the commission proposed a 2011 lion season that would allow hunters to kill 50 lions overall, five of which could be taken in Custer State Park. The GF&P biological staff on Thursday recommended a total lion limit of 45, including five in the new park hunt. The staff also recommended that the use of lion hounds be allowed by hunters in the park hunt only.

The commission agreed to propose the season in the park as recommended by its staff, with a total of five lions taken there and allowing the use of hounds. But it proposed an increase in the limit of lions taken outside the park from 40 to 45, bringing the total to 50. It also proposed an increase from the staff recommendation on the sub-limit on female lions from 25 to 30.

Under the commission proposal, the 2011 season would end when a total of 50 lions or 30 females were killed, whichever came first.

GF&P Commissioner John Cooper of Pierre said Friday that the commission decided unanimously to propose the higher lion limit in an attempt to reduce the lion population to a targeted level of 175 within 18 months to two years. The original staff recommendation was predicted to have reached that goal within three to four years.

“We worked with the staff today to shape a commission proposal to reach that target population sooner,” Cooper said.

The GF&P staff recently reduced its estimate of the lion population from 250 to 225, in part because hunters in the 2010 season earlier this year killed 40 lions, the most since the season began in 2005. The target population identified in a draft GF&P lion management plan is 175.

Cooper said that population target was reached through of review of lion data, ongoing research and public opinions collected during a series of meetings on lion management.

“We’ve been contacted by just about every interest group there is on this,” Cooper said. “We’re trying to be responsible to the social aspects, but we’re really trying to make sure our decision is based on science.”

Some big-game hunters have argued for several years that lions are hurting deer and elk populations in the Hills. And some landowners and homeowners have complained about lions threatening or killing livestock or wandering into housing areas.

The GF&P Commission responded in 2009 by going beyond its staff recommendation of 35 lions overall or 20 females to set a 2010 season limit of 40 lions overall or 25 females. The 2010 season began Jan. 1 and ended when the 40th lion was killed on Feb. 10.

The 2011 season would begin on Jan. 1 and run through March 31, but end sooner if the overall limit or female limit were reached.

Critics argue that GF&P is hitting the lion population too hard and is overly responsive to hunting groups. Cooper said the commission is committed to managing for a sustainable lion population, but at a lower level.

“We truly have to manage for a sustainable population,” he said. “That’s one of our big jobs as a department and a commission. And we take it seriously.”

Citizens will have two months to consider and comment on the 2011 season proposal. The commission will take final action to set the season during its next meeting, Oct. 7 and 8, at the Spearfish Canyon Lodge near Lead. There will be a public hearing allowing comments on the proposal before the final vote.

Contact Kevin Woster at 394-8413 or kevin.woster@rapidcityjournal.com

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