Quota Reached, Season Closed for First Mountain Lion Hunt in Years

A small quota of mountain lions was met during Nebraska's first hunting season in five years for the big felines.

Quota Reached, Season Closed for First Mountain Lion Hunt in Years

A controversial hunting season for mountain lions is getting mixed reviews in Nebraska, where a quota of four felines was met in one western zone to close the season there.

The four cougars were killed in Nebraska's Pine Ridge southwest zone, three males and one female, which closed hunting in Sheridan, Sioux, Dawes and Box Butte counties. The zone was split by a highway, U.S. 20. State officials established the zones and hunting seasons due to the population numbers, concern from farmers about their livestock, and potential problems with humans.

Hunters with permits for the southerns zone were notified by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission of the quota being met and season closure. Hunting is still underway until Feb. 28 in the northern zone. The quota is four mountain lions or two females. If the quota's not met by then, The Omaha Herald reported, an auxiliary season will be held March 15-31 in which hunters can use hounds for trailing and treeing.

Hunters who obtained permits were immediately informed via emails on Friday that the quota had been reached and that hunting in that area had closed, said Sam Wilson of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) . That information was also posted on the agency’s website and on a toll-free telephone hotline, and press releases were issued, he said.

Controversial Season

The effort to establish a Nebraska mountain lion hunting season has been controversial for years, similar to hunting seasons in other states. New Jersey and Florida state wildlife agencies, legislatures and the public have battled over hunting seasons for black bears. The grizzly bear hunting controversy in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho is well-known, as is the back-and-forth about the gray wolf in the Great Lakes states.

Nebraska Senator Ernie Chambers of Omaha has fought against the mountain lion season for years. In 2014 he publicly said he wanted to take away the state wildlife commission's ability to manage wildlife and create hunting seasons.

“My intent is — and will be as long as I’m in the Legislature — is to do away with the authority given to Game and Parks to establish a hunting season on mountain lions,” Chambers said in 2014

Chambers succeeded during that legislative session in getting enough votes to remove the Game and Wildlife Commission's authority to establish a hunting season for mountain lions. Then-Gov. Dave Heineman vetoed the bill, and Chambers couldn't get enough support to override the veto.

The Pine Ridge mountain lion population in 2014 was estimated at 22, according to Sam Wilson, NGWC furbearer and carnivore program manager. 

In spring 2018 during a public meeting, Wilson said mountain lions moved into Nebraska from Wyoming, Colorado and the Black Hills of South Dakota. While native to Nebraska, he said they share genetics with mountain lion populations in the western states and British Columbia. Settlers extirpated mountain lions, turkeys and most of the deer from Nebraska by the 1890s.

Wilson said the first confirmed sighting in modern times was in the Pine Ridge in 1991. According to the NGPC, despite reports from citizens, no confirmed sighting was made in the state until the 1990s. In 1991 mountain lion tracks were found and shortly after, an adult mountain lion was shot by a hunter near Harrison, in Sioux County.

Mountain lions were protected in Nebraska as game animals by statute in 1995; statutes to allow hunting were created in 2012. Breeding populations exist in three areas: the Pine Ridge, Niobrara River Valley and Wildcat Hills.

The NGPC says genetic surveys conducted between 2010-17 indicate the Pine Ridge population has increased, with estimates ranging from 22-33 between 2010-15 and 59 total animals in 2017.

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