Hunters worry about lions’ impact in the Black HillsRAPID CITY (AP) — When the firing is finished for 2011 in the Black Hills, sport hunters will have killed about 3,000 deer. Mountain lions will have killed 4,000 or more.
RAPID CITY (AP) — When the firing is finished for 2011 in the Black Hills, sport hunters will have killed about 3,000 deer.
Mountain lions will have killed 4,000 or more.
That worries sport hunters, who also fret about things like this:
In an ongoing study of elk calves in Custer State Park, almost 70 percent of the 30 calves fitted with radio collars this spring are already believed to have been killed by lions.
One study doesn’t necessarily represent the lion kill on elk calves throughout the Black Hills, but it shows on a limited level the kind of lion carnage that some hunters fear is taking place on a much larger scale.
What’s that mean for the future of big-hunting in the Black Hills? Hunters like Lee DeLange aren’t quite sure.
“I’m a little pessimistic about what the coming years will be and whether my kids will be able to go hunting in the Black Hills, as I’ve been able to,” said DeLange, a 40-year-old Rapid City native now living in the country near Nemo with his wife and three children. “I think we’ve got a problem with lions.”
The state Game, Fish & Parks Commission agrees. That’s why the eight-member citizens board that oversee the GF&P Department has been upping the allowed lion quota in a season that killed 13 lions when it first opened in 2005 and could kill up to 70 in 2012.
Hunters like DeLange think that’s a wise move by the commission, which responded to a resounding succession of hunters calling for a higher lion quota during a recent meeting in Rapid City. The commission’s goal is to trim a lion population that estimated at about 250 a couple of years ago down to 150 or 160 after next year’s hunt.
DeLange likes the sound of that.
“I think they’re headed in the right direction,” he said. “If they’re talking about cutting the lion population down to 150, that sounds about right to me.”
But it sounds all wrong to John Wrede of Rapid City, a retired conservation officer and former game manager who worked for GF&P for 31 years. Wrede thinks GF&P created many of its own problems with dwindling elk and deer herds in recent years by shooting too many doe deer and cow elk.
The agency increased the issuance of “antlerless” deer tags to reduce a deer herd that had exploded in many areas. GF&P took a similar approach to cutting the expanded elk herd, by increasing the number of cow tags available to hunters.
Wrede thinks GF&P leaders and the commission bowed to pressure from politicians and a small number of landowners complaining about damage to crops and fences and feed supplies from deer and particularly elk.
It was a simplistic overresponse to a complicated wildlife management problem, Wrede said. It additional pressure on deer and elk herds already stressed by year-round human disturbance and questionable forest management and grazing practices that have diminished the big-game habitat base, he said.
“The Black Hills essentially are the most heavily logged, heavily roaded piece of public land in the United States,” Wrede said. “The animals simply don’t have the kind of security they used to have. We’re creating a lot of our own problems.”
Blaming the lion is the easy way out, Wrede said. And he fears that lions will suffer the same kind of population overkill endured by deer and elk when “we shot the living daylights out of them.”
“Increasing the lion permits isn’t going to help speed up the recovery of elk and deer at all,” Wrede said. “We’re simply abusing one wildlife population to try to recover another.”
Wrede isn’t shy about making his argument to GF&P officials. They include regional wildlife manager John Kanta of Rapid City, whose job Wrede once held. Kanta understands Wrede’s concerns, just as he sympathizes with DeLange’s worries about the shrinking deer and elk herds and the effects of lions.
Both arguments have merit but don’t tell the whole story, Kanta said. Nor is the decline in deer and elk numbers as catastrophic as some might believe, he said.
“Are the numbers down? Absolutely. You can drive the highways and see that,” Kanta said. “But it’s not accurate or fair to say the elk are gone and there’s no deer out there and everything stinks.”