GF&P eyes raising mountain lion hunt limitsOther proposals include starting season earlier, allowing hunters to use dogs.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
MILBANK — Mountain lion hunters in South Dakota could be getting quite the Christmas present for the coming season.
State Wildlife Division biologists recommended a broad package of changes Thursday to the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission that would greatly liberalize the 2013 season.
One would let the hunt start the day after Christmas. Another would let them harvest up to 30 more lions in 2013 than they did in 2012.
The commission will make a formal proposal today, chairman Jeff Olson of Rapid City said.
The commission can proceed with the recommendation, leave the 2013 season as it was for 2012, or propose something in between.
If the commission proposes any changes from the 2012 rules, a public hearing would be held the afternoon of Oct. 4 at the commission’s next meeting, set for Deadwood’s AmericInn.
Hunters would be allowed to kill up to 30 more lions during the Black Hills season. The recommended limits are 70 females or 100 total, whichever is reached first.
The 2012 season limits were 50 and 70.
Hunters legally killed 73 lions, however, because the hunter who took the 70th lion didn’t report his kill until the following day.
That allowed hunters to remain in the field one more day. They took three more lions on March 1.
Altogether, hunters harvested 27 males and 46 females during the 2012 hunt.
To encourage more hunting, the biologists’ recommendation calls for the Black Hills season to be five days longer for 2013 and start Dec. 26, 2012, rather than Jan. 1, 2013.
It would run until one of the limits was reached or March 31, whichever comes first.
In another important recommendation intended to promote more harvest, licensed hunters could kill lions throughout the year outside the Black Hills anyplace they were allowed to hunt.
Lions taken outside the Black Hills don’t count toward the season limits. In 2012, there were three. Currently, only landowners on their own property can take lions outside the Black Hills.
Another piece of the liberalization package would allow hounds to be used by hunters for the first time. They would be restricted to special hunts within Custer State Park.
Hunters are otherwise prohibited from using dogs to pursue big game in South Dakota.
The biologists also outlined a sophisticated series of temporary access hunts in Custer State Park. The access permits would be free, but would be available on a limited basis.
There would be five sets of 30 hunters allowed into the park for the special-access hunts for specific periods of 14 to 16 days each to pursue lions without using dogs.
There also would be three sets of four hunters allowed into the park for periods of seven days when they could use dogs there.
The changes recommended by the biologists come in response to some current and past members of the commission who favor further reducing the Black Hills population of lions.
Public opinion has seemed to deepen in that same direction during the past year or so.
The biologists told the commission Thursday their revised estimate, based on results of the 2012 season, put the Black Hills lion population at about 200 adults and sub-adults and about 100 kittens for the 2012 season.
The commission’s goal has been a population of 150 to 200 lions in the Black Hills.
Biologist Andy Lindbloom said the population would decrease to about 70 adults and sub-adults and about 30 kittens by 2016 if the 100 limit is followed for the next three seasons.
He showed the commission a variety of data that suggested in some ways that perhaps the current 70/50 limit should remain and in other ways indicated more lions can be taken without eating too deeply into the genetic pool.
Adopting the 100 limit for 2013 would put the population at an estimated 130 adults and sub-adults and 50 kittens heading into 2014.
“We’re not going to wipe out all the lions we have in the Hills,” Lindbloom said.
The 2012 hunt saw 35 lions killed in January and 35 killed in February, followed by the three March 1 after the hunt normally should have been shut down.
So far this year, the biologists know of 20 lions that died in other ways such as vehicle collisions and removals from populated areas.
Hunters killed their limit of 50 lions in the 2011 season, and another 44 were known to have died, including 13 by removal and 12 in crashes.
South Dakota State University’s wildlife researchers have 43 lions currently wearing radio collars. They are 11 males and 32 females.
More will be collared in the months ahead.
Researchers for SDSU and the Wildlife Division have been documenting predator behavior by lions in the Black Hills.
One of their findings is that deer have been the prey at 81 percent of some 1,400 feeding sites. Another is tracking lion predation on elk calves.
In Custer State Park, the researchers put radio collars on 36 of the calves, and 20 have died or lost their collars, including 12 that were killed by lions.
In another hunting unit, there were 36 calves collared and four of those have been lost to lions.
Wyoming’s quota for lions as part of the broader Black Hills and related range was 40 in 2011. All 40 were taken, along with five lions from unlimited hunting areas. The 2012 quota is set at 61.