South Dakota GFPC Discuss Changes to Mtn. Lion Season

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The S.D. Game, Fish and Parks Commission is considering major revisions to the state's mountain lion hunting season. The commission approved the season proposal at its May meeting at the State Game Lodge at Custer State Park.

As proposed, the hunting season dates would change to Jan. 1 through March 31 and create a special provision for landowner licenses. A public hearing about the season will be held at the commission’s June meeting in Pierre.

Wildlife Division Director Tony Leif explained to commissioners that changing the start of the season to Jan. 1 would decrease the chances of department personnel needing to retrieve orphaned mountain lion kittens. The Game, Fish and Parks Department has a policy of recovering mountain lion kittens that are 3 months old or younger if they are orphaned during the hunting season.

"To mainstream South Dakotans, this is an important issue," Leif said. "It's a very important social issue and we need to be responsive to that."

Wildlife Program Administrator Tom Kirschenmann shared data with commissioners about research the department has conducted on 26 mountain lion litters. The research showed that the highest probability of harvesting a mountain lion female with dependent kittens was in August, September, October and November. The state's last two mountain lion hunting seasons started on Nov. 1.

The research also showed that January, February and March were the months when it would be least likely to harvest a female with cubs who were 3 months old or younger.

Assistant Wildlife Division Director George Vandel said that the purpose of the hunting season proposal was to minimize the kitten issue and still get the harvest of lions that’s needed in the Black Hills. "We think we can do both," Vandel said. If the harvest limits aren't met, the proposal includes a provision that allows the commission to extend the season beyond March 31.

More than 4,000 mountain lion hunting licenses were sold in South Dakota last year. Leif said that the number of licenses sold for the next season is likely to go down since many deer and elk hunters also bought mountain lion hunting licenses on the chance that they would get a shot at one of the big cats.

"Participation in that season will decline," Lief said, noting that the season will quite likely last longer than the three weeks it has taken in the past to fulfill the subquota of female mountain lions. The proposed harvest limit has not changed. It remains at 35 lions or 15 female lions.

Also included in the proposal is a provision that allows landowners outside of the Black Hills Fire Prevention District to hunt mountain lions on their property year-round.

Leif said this provision would allow properly-licensed landowners the opportunity to hunt a lion on their property. The new provision would not change the current policy that allows landowners to protect themselves or their property from a threatening mountain lion.

"When that happens," Leif said, "the landowner often wants the lion after it's harvested and that's not allowed."” Big game animals have a level of status in South Dakota that doesn't allow them to be kept when harvested out of season.

"With this provision, a licensed landowner in fear of depredation will be able to protect his property and keep the lion," Leif said. Other than being able to hunt year-round, landowners must follow the other requirements of the season.

Leif said an administrative change in the way license applications are processed would guide applicants through the season’s regulations. "It requires them to check off on knowing the rules of the season," Leif said.

The mountain lion hunting season is scheduled to be the topic of a public hearing at the commission’s June meeting in Pierre. Citizens who would like to provide written comments on the mountain lion hunting season may do so up until 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 4. Those comments may be mailed to Game, Fish and Parks Commission, 523 E. Capitol Ave., Pierre, SD 57501 or e-mailed to wildinfo@state.sd.us. All comments must include the sender's full name and address in order to become part of the official record.