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S. Dakota wants fewer cougars

July 04, 2010 at 02:20 PM

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) - A proposed five-year management plan would reduce the estimated population of mountain lions in the Black Hills by nearly a third, most likely by raising bag limits or making other adjustments to the hunting season.

State wildlife managers estimated the 2009 lion population at 250 - give or take 10 percent. A new five-year management proposal sets a population target of 175 in the Black Hills.

The report lists several benefits to a smaller population:

- Fewer lions would have to be killed because they’re in residential areas or are threats to livestock or pets.

- A 40 percent reduction in the number of lions struck and killed by vehicles.

- Improvement in overall health of the population and less disease.

- Saving an estimated 1,650 deer, elk and other big game animals killed by lions each year for food.

The state Department of Game, Fish and Parks will take public comment through July 26 on i ts proposal, consider modifications and submit it to the Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

The commission takes no action on the plan, but decisions it makes on the hunting season can help meet the management goal, said Tony Leif, director of the wildlife division within the GF&P.

“If we are going to adopt the management plan as it’s drafted now, it would require an increase in the (hunter) harvest, so we would adjust upward from the season structure we had last year. Again, that’s if the plan is adopted as written,” Leif said.

Tom Huhnerkoch, who’s been critical of hunting season regulations, said there’s no justification for lowering the population that much.

“Where’s the risk and where’s the need, other than a perceived fear?” said the retired veterinarian from the northern Black Hills. “Where is the data? Where is the problem? There isn’t one, really. That’s the whole thing.”

The GF&P held 11 meetings around the state in March and Apr il to take public comment on lion management.

“It’s impossible to set that management goal at a place where everyone will be happy, but we’re trying to balance what we’re hearing on all sides,” Leif said.

Management changes in South Dakota and Wyoming, plus a smaller deer herd in the Black Hills as a food source, could reduce the lion population too much, Huhnerkoch said.

“You’ve got a real good chance of creating a predator pit where there aren’t very many,” Huhnerkoch said. “And that’s not all roses when you get rid of the predators.”

Each Black Hills hunting season has set a season-ending quota on total lions or females that’s been increasing annually.

The first season in 2005 ended after 24 days when the subquota of five breeding age females was reached. Eight males also were killed. This year’s season set a limit of 40 lions total or 25 females. The season closed after 42 days when the 40-lion quota (24 females and 16 males) was met.

The lion management plan and proposed 2011 season regulations will go to the GF&P Commission in August. The 2011 hunting season will be finalized by the commission in October.

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