Mountain Lion Population Estimate Raised

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Information collected by South Dakota State University researchers indicates that habitat in the Black Hills likely supports more mountain lions than previously thought.

“SDSU and the Department of Game, Fish and Parks have been working together for the past three years to collect additional population data for mountain lions in the Black Hills,” Tony Leif, GFP game staff administrator, said. “The new information we have in hand is leading GFP staff and university officials to conclude that the Black Hills can support more mountain lions than we estimated a year ago.”

Research data collected between 2003 and 2005 indicates that on average male mountain lions have home ranges that are almost one-third smaller than previously documented. Female home ranges average 40 percent smaller. Smaller home ranges mean that there is more space in the Black Hills for mountain lions than previously estimated.

“Data collected by SDSU and GFP from 1999 through 2001 indicated that the portion of the Black Hills in South Dakota had the capacity to hold approximately 145 mountain lions, and observed mountain lion dispersal indicated we were at or above this level,” Leif said. “As research data was being gathered, we intentionally kept our carrying capacity and population estimates conservative.”

The new information, along with documented reproductive rates for mountain lions in the Black Hills, results in a revised carrying capacity of between 165 and 210 cougars. Separate analyses indicate the current population is within this range.

Approximately 45 percent of the population is comprised of resident adult cougars. Of these, 10 percent of the population is territorial males and 35 percent are females with established territories.

The remaining 55 percent of the population is made up of sub-adults (20 percent) and dependent kittens (35 percent).

“The recent roadkill of a mountain lion in Harding County and the capture of a lion in Bennett County document that they are found outside of the Black Hills,” Leif said. “However, at this time we have found no evidence that a breeding population exists outside of the Black Hills.”

GFP staff will bring a recommendation for a 2006 mountain lion hunting season to the GFP Commission at the April 6-7 meeting in Pierre. Details, including consideration of season dates and harvest limits, are in the final stages of development.

Should the Commission propose a mountain lion hunting season, there will be a 30-day public comment period on details of the season before it is finalized at their May meeting in Rapid City.