Despite an assault on their authority by the state legislature, and unprecedented mortality numbers during the inaugural hunt year, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) is looking for ways to justify a second mountain lion hunting season in 2015.
On January 1st of this year, Nebraska opened its first mountain lion hunting season since that species was eradicated more than a hundred and twenty years ago. At the time biologists with the Nebraska Game and Parks Department estimated that there might be as many as 22 resident mountain lions in the state, with possibly one breeding female. As of today, 14 mountain lions - including 6 females - are known to have died as a result of human-related causes (hunting, poaching, vehicle accidents, as well as the usual farmer/ranchers killings because a lion was on their property).
At the same time Nebraska's lion hunt was taking place, State Senator Ernie Chambers and his legislative colleagues passed legislation removing NGPC's authority to implement a mountain lion hunting season. That legislation was eventually vetoed by the Governor (who has been replaced), but Senator Chambers has sworn to take up the cause again when the legislature convenes in January.
All of these factors have had an affect on Nebraska holding a second mountain lion season. Normally the season would have started in 10-days on January 1st. However, the Commission hasn't yet decided if there will even be a season. That decision has been delayed until possibly the commission hearing scheduled to be held in Lincoln on January 15th.
According to Commissioner Mick Jensen of Blair (who supported the inaugural lion hunting season), "Most Nebraskans don't want the big cats in their backyards. But the animals also must receive some protection so they're not overhunted. They are a game animal and we are charged with managing their population. And managing does not mean extinction. And managing does [not] mean letting them grow willy-nilly either."
Commissioner Blair went on to state that Department biologists are working with officials in South Dakota and Wyoming to determine how many mountain lions migrate along the rivers shared by those states, but that information will take time to compile.
"We want to be completely science-based," Blair said. "We don't want to have the emotion in this, because that's hard to defend."
Many however take Commissioner Blair's statements to mean that the Commission is going to "cherry-pick" the available science to justify the high number of lions killed in Nebraska this year, as well as the need to hunt lions in order to "manage" them.
Well known and respected mountain lion researcher Dr. John Laundre had the following response to Commissioner Blair's comments. "And what if the science says there is no reason to be afraid of mountain lions, which it does. Or that they are no threat to cattle or deer, which it does. Or that they are not a game animal, meaning hunted to eat, which it does? Or that they, along with most predators don't need to be hunted to manage them, which based on California, it does? Will they follow those scientific conclusions or fall back on the purely emotional non-scientifically based arguments of hunters and ranchers? If science indeed did rule, mountain lions would be safe in Nebraska."