South Dakota GFPC Approves Third Mountain Lion Season

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The S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Commission approved the state's third consecutive mountain lion hunting season at its June meeting in Pierre. In the process, commissioners and GFP staff were reminded that mountain lions continue to spark keen interest in the citizens of South Dakota.

A lengthy public hearing offered commissioners a wide variety of opinions about the lions and the hunting season that has been in place for the past two years. Those opinions ranged from shutting down the season to protect the big cats to shooting even more of the mountain lions.

Commissioners finalized a season that GFP personnel believe will be consistent with the department's goal of maintaining a sustainable mountain lion population in the Black Hills. The 2007 season will run from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31 or until 35 lions or 15 female lions are harvested. In 2006 the season limits were 25 lions or eight females.

Another change in the 2007 is creation of one statewide unit instead of using Black Hills and prairie units. GFP Secretary Jeff Vonk explained that the department's management plan for lions does not extend beyond the Black Hills. "The decision to go with a statewide season is, in essence, a decision to manage the lion population only in the Black Hills," Vonk said. "We are not going to manage beyond the Hills."

Using a variety of methods, GFP estimates that the current population of mountain lions in South Dakota is between 200 and 225. That population is estimated to include 15 to 25 adult males, 75 to 80 breeding females and 110 to 120 dependent young.

GFP estimates an annual recruitment of 62 to 66 lions into the population with documented adult mortalities of 46 in the Black Hills in 2006.

One indicator of the growing size of the mountain lion population is the number of lions killed by other lions. GFP Game Program Administrator Tony Leif said there were four documented cases of one cougar killing another in the previous 10 years. So far in 2007 there have been five such cases. "It's another indicator of the size of the mountain lion population," Leif said.