Pierre, S.D. (AP) – A state panel on Friday proposed a mountain lion hunting season that would give South Dakota hunters more time to shoot more of the big cats next winter.
The Game, Fish and Parks Commission has been gradually increasing the number of mountain lions that can be shot in an effort to reduce the population in the Black Hills and protect elk and deer that serve as the lions' prey. During its Friday meeting in Milbank, it proposed allowing hunters to shoot 30 more lions than last year during a season running from Dec. 26 to March 31.
The season would end early if 100 lions were killed or if 70 females were killed.
Last year's season ended a month early after 70 lions were killed. It was supposed to run from Jan. 1 to March 31.
The commission will make a final decision on this year's season after an Oct. 4 public hearing in Deadwood.
The plan also would give some hunters, chosen by random, access to Custer State Park and let some use dogs to hunt lions in the park during some periods. Hunters so far have not been allowed to use dogs to track mountain lions in South Dakota, partly because some argue that gives hunters too much of an advantage.
Game, Fish and Parks Department biologists have set a population target of 150 to 200 lions in the Black Hills. They estimate the population is now about 300, including about 100 kittens.
Many hunters have argued that more mountain lions should be shot because they believe the cats are killing too many deer and elk, which are popular game for hunting. But others say the increase in mountain lion hunting in recent years is decimating the cougar population.
Chris Hesla, executive director of the South Dakota Wildlife Federation, said the association of hunters and anglers would support the increased quota for mountain lions as long as it was based on sound research. The federation opposes the use of dogs in mountain lion hunting.
Custer veterinarian Sharon Seneczko, president of the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation, said the quota shouldn't be raised again because it takes several years of research to understand the effects of previous increases.
"I think it's a total disregard for any balance in nature. I think it's an attempt to annihilate the lions down to a few token lions that may be left,'' Seneczko said.
Killing more females will lead to a population dominated by young male lions, which will likely lead to more conflicts between cougars and people in the Black Hills, Seneczko added. She also opposes allowing hunters to use dogs in Custer State Park.
"I think it's totally irresponsible,'' Seneczko said of the proposed season. 'It's sad.''