Mountain Lions Need Public Understanding

Kansas Audubon

Audubon of Kansas E-News
February 7, 2012

Achieving Co-existence With and Conservation of Mountain Lions Requires Public Understanding
We believe that positive conservation, research and management programs should be implemented for Mountain Lions in Nebraska, Kansas and other Great Plains states.

On behalf of the Niobrara Sanctuary (as Manager), our Great Plains Conservation Partnership Program, and Audubon of Kansas, Ron Klataske presented testimony on LB 928 during the hearing conducted by the Natural Resources Committee of the Nebraska Legislature on Thursday afternoon February 2, 2012. Click here for a copy of the statement.

At least one Mountain Lion has been periodically present on the Hutton Niobrara Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary and the immediate vicinity since May of 2010 when it was first captured on a trail camera maintained by Lana Micheel on adjacent property. Tracks, sightings and additional camera views have recorded the presence periodically and as recently as this past month in mid January.

Although LB 928 would authorize the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) to establish hunting permits for Mountain Lions, the most important aspect of the legislation is that it would give these native cats a status with greater recognition and allow NGPC to devote resources for research and management of the species. As the bill states, "Any money derived from the sale of permits by auction shall be used only for perpetuation and management of mountain lions." We believe the other funds generated from applications for a permit selected with a raffle should go to that purpose as well.

Niobrara Mountain Lion

Lana Micheel

At present, Mountain Lions are protected in Nebraska, but they are often needless killed: illegally killed and not recognized as a valuable part of the state's wildlife heritage, or shot by various "officials" because they venture into and cannot find their way out of developed areas or because they take refuge near a rural farmstead or town.

The status quo is conceivably more of a threat to the species than purposeful management and very limited hunting.

They are very much like "a man without a country in a no-man's-land" in Nebraska and in even greater limbo in many other states. Without upgraded recognition they are in constant risk of being classified by legislative measures that would declare them as an animal that can be shot on sight by anyone.

This fact was clearly illustrated by a regressive bill recently introduced in Missouri, a state that is otherwise often noteworthy for progressive conservation programs. On the same day as the hearing in Nebraska, Republican State Senator Bill Stouffer of Napton, Missouri introduced a bill (SB 738) that would allow any person to kill a Mountain Lion (for any purpose) in the state.

Micheel Mountain Lion

Lana Micheel

A similar eradication bill was introduced a couple years ago in Kansas; it was fortunately tabled.Mountain Lions are apparently not protected at all in Iowa, where a number have been killed-needlessly in our opinion--in recent years. One was shot out of a tree by a deer hunter, and another was tried by a dog in a rural backyard and shot by law enforcement officers who expressed a degree of reluctance after killing the magnificent young animal.

Senator Louden said at the close of the hearing in Lincoln that he knows of numerous Mountain Lions that have been shot in the area of his ranch in northwestern Nebraska and in another vicinity. He suggested the killing has been done under the approach of "shoot, shovel and shut up."

The South Dakota Legislature has bills pending (HB 1081 and HB 1082) that would essentially authorize this approach, gut regulated Mountain Lion hunting observed by ethical sportsmen, tie the hands of the state wildlife agency, and make those provisions retroactive to December 8, 2010 so that a person charged with a specific violation would be able to "walk away" after disregarding laws and regulations.

Audubon of Kansas has information on two Mountain Lions that were killed during the past ten years in Kansas that were never officially acknowledged. A separate violation resulted in the arrest and confiscation of a lion at a taxidermy shop. If poaching of other wildlife (deer, elk, etc.) is any indication, many more are likely killed that are never disclosed or investigated in the central and northern Great Plains.

There are some areas, landscapes with sufficient habitat and prey, in all of the Great Plains and Ozark states where small breeding populations of Mountain Lions could become established, if permitted to do so naturally. And, they can co-exist with farming, ranching and other human activities-as they do now in the Black Hills, Pine Ridge, and Badlands of western North Dakota.

The Nebraska legislation may begin to help to transform the sometimes-condoned culture of criminal behavior (shoot, shovel and shut up) toward a culture of conservation. Though limited, an opportunity for ethical hunting may help to replace inexcusable killing if sportsmen, wildlife enthusiasts (including landowners in both categories) and agency personnel increasingly work as collective stakeholders with an interest in conservation of Mountain Lions.

Two of the most promising instances of partnerships between individuals and wildlife agencies occurred in January.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission officials released a Mountain Lion that was accidentally caught in a trap in Dawes County in the northwestern part of the state. The trapper who caught the young female, which weighed about 50 pounds and appeared healthy, in a legally set trap called wildlife officers immediately after he discovered it. Tracks in the snow indicated that another youngster and their mother were lingering nearby.

Similarly, a man in Reynolds County in southeastern Missouri caught a young male Mountain Lion in a large cage trap. Conservation agents collected DNA samples and released the cat into the wild.

The approach outlined by NGPC biologist Sam Wilson is reassuring.

Our qualified support for LB 928 is also based on the fact that at this time we are willing to place confidence in the Nebraska Game and Fish Commission, particularly with the biologists in the wildlife division currently responsible for any Mountain Lion research and management that will be initiated. The testimony of Sam Wilson underscored the agency's present commitment to properly manage the species.

Recognizing that the population in the Pine Ridge area of northwestern Nebraska may only have a population of twenty Mountain Lions, it is anticipated that only one or two hunting permits will be issued. Biologists estimate that sustainable take of Mountain Lions may only be ten to twenty percent of a population.

However, we also recognize that state wildlife agency Commissions may yield to pressure from various interests that may call for allowance of increasing take beyond the recommendations of biologists, and beyond the sustainability of a population. According to the Mountain Lion Foundation, and the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission has voted to override the recommendations of the agency's biologists and increase the quota for the kill for three years in a row. The S.D. 2012 hunting season underway now will allow the take of up to 70 Mountain Lions, including up to 50 female lions. With a population around 200, that may be more than twice the kill recommended by biologists. (The season was initiated in 2005.)

LB 928 as introduced: The Fiscal Note: News Articles on the Legislative Hearing: Mountain Lions Should be Managed Through Hunting, Senator Says -- North Platte Bulletin -- Christine Scalora

Pawing Over Idea of Cougar Hunting --

Omaha World-Herald -- Joe Duggan

The Discouraging South Dakota Situation: South Dakota Game Commission Disregards Advice From Experts and Raises the 2012 Hunting Quota on Mountain Lions --

Mountain Lion Foundation

PRAIRIE WINGS is Online. Check it out!

Now, PRAIRIE WINGS is online for everyone to read and forward electronically to friends:

At present it is posted on the Niobrara Sanctuary website. Ryan Klataske created the website and accessed a special opportunity to link the magazine there. See also

Like so much of what we do, posting it online was a suggestion of one of our supporters, a Wichita member who suggested it would "provide unlimited digital distribution worldwide."

As the world becomes smaller with travel and communication, our commitment to conservation is increasingly global, drawing strength from that of others and sharing concerns. Imperiled grassland birds that depend on prairies in Kansas and Nebraska part of the year also require suitable habitat in Central and South America in other months.

Likewise, we receive e-mail updates from Laurie Marker of the Cheetah Conservation Fund on efforts to conserve that sleek cat in the rangelands of Namibia, and we promote a similar approach to enlightened acceptance of Mountain Lions in the Great Plains--as illustrated in the latest PRAIRIE WINGS and by an AOK release in September 2007:
Make an Investment in our Prairies and Wildlife, Consider Giving to AOK:

We need your help. Please donate now to keep Audubon of Kansas on the front lines undeterred by controversy or the absence of other conservation organizations in the trenches, working for wildlife in every forum possible, joining landowners and others who strive to protect prairie landscapes and ecological values, pushing agencies to change operational paradigms and go beyond their comfort zones. We greatly appreciate any support you can provide.