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Dog proposal could spark controversy for lion hunt season

MILBANK -- The state Game, Fish and Parks Commission on Friday formally proposed the changes recommended for the 2013 mountain lion season by GF&P biologists, including the first modern use of hounds to pursue big-game animals within South Dakota.

Three sets of four hunters would be permitted to use dogs during special one-week seasons within Custer State Park. The hunters would be selected through a drawing.

Commissioner John Cooper, of Pierre, said he expects there will be some push-back.

"What we're going to have to do with this is sell it to the public," Cooper said.

The proposed use of hounds accompanies a recommendation that the harvest within the Black Hills district be increased to 70 females or 100 lions total, whichever is reached first.

The 2012 harvest limits for the Black Hills were 50 females or 70 lions total.

Hunters actually took 73 lions within the district, after a hunter who was a Game, Fish and Parks Department employee at the time reported the seventieth lion the day after he killed it.

State Wildlife Division officials want to increase the number of lions harvested from within Custer State Park, which is part of the district, as a step to reduce pressure on elk herds there.

The proposal being considered by the commission would allow many hunters into the park.

There would be five groups of 30 who would get permits for two-week hunts without dogs, as well as the dozen hunters who would be allowed to use dogs.

Commissioner Jim Spies, of Watertown, praised the proposal, especially the use of dogs.

"I think that's the most efficient way to do it," Spies said.

Any South Dakota resident hunter could apply for the special Custer State Park permits, regardless of whether the hunter had tracking dogs.

Hunters would need to make arrangements for hounds-men to assist them if they drew one of the hound-hunt permits.

"There are houndsmen out there who are interested," said Tom Kirschenmann, the big-game chief for the state Wildlife Division.

Commissioner Barry Jensen, of White River, supported the recommendations, including the strategy to increase the harvest of lions from the park

"I think the dogs probably help to ensure to that," Jensen said.

The commission will hold a public hearing on the lion proposals at 2 p.m. Mountain time Oct. 4 in Deadwood at the AmericInn.

Hounds are already used in Wyoming for mountain lions and for bobcats in South Dakota.