Seven years ago, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks (SDGF&P) presented the world with their version of a mountain lion management plan. In that plan was the proposal for an "experimental" mountain lion hunting season. They justified this action as "just another step in the evolution of responsible mountain lion management," and because it "would communicate to some people that mountain lions are being managed responsibly." Now, five hunting seasons later, SDGF&P is kowtowing to special interest hunting groups and proposing a new mountain lion management plan where the recreational hunting of lions is no longer considered as experimental, but is the cornerstone of their entire management program.
Granted at first look the new plan appears to be based on scientific facts, with actions proposed for the good of the species, but on closer review the document is full of incorrect numbers, flawed mathematical equations, a series of bad scientific practices and assumptions, and a complete disregard of the basic biological and behavioral qualities of the species. If this new management plan had been forced to pass peer review its presenters would have been laughed out of the scientific community.
Setting aside their ever-changing numbers, and incorrect mathematic equations, SDGF&P's basic premise is that there are too many mountain lions for the Black Hills region of the state to support, and hunting is needed to "thin out the herd" so to speak. They base this assumption on their belief that seventy percent of South Dakota's lions are female and that they are breeding like rabbits. What's more they seem to think that South Dakota's mountain lion kittens are tougher than those in other states because the Department's population calculations have almost all of them surviving despite being orphaned at an early age.
Let's look at the facts:
* SDGF&P claims that the Black Hills region can only support a population of somewhere between 150 to 200 lions.
* In 2009, Department researchers claimed that there were 251 mountain lions in South
Dakota's Black Hills with a population breakdown of 138 adults and an unbelievable 113 kittens.
* Of course, SDGF&P counts those 113 kittens (statistically half of which would still be breast feeding) as if they are all adults, using the same resources and taking up the same territorial space as full grown mountain lions, to justify the need to increase the annual hunting quota.
* During the first 41 days of this year, 40 adult mountain lions (24 female, 16 males) were
killed during the 2010 mountain lion hunting season. Thereby reducing the estimated adult lion population to 98.
* Despite the Department's misinterpretation of the Logan and Sweanor's research on the subject, the death of 24 female mountain lions would also cause the unnoticed deaths of at least six litters of kittens, for an additional 18 lion mortalities. Not to mention, this would also orphan 18 "teenage" lions ranging in age from 12 to 24 months -- lions, which as they grow up are now most likely to prey on domestic animals because they didn't have mothers to teach them what to hunt.
* Recreational hunting isn't the only way South Dakota's mountain lions die. Based on
SDGF&P's 2008, 2009 mountain lion mortality data, approximately 36-37 mountain lions die from non-hunting related causes each year. Based on SDGF&P's sex assumptions that means that 25 more female lions will perish in 2010 and there will be twenty additional kitten mortalities, and of course, twenty additional teenage lions running
around getting into trouble.
* That brings South Dakota's estimated lion population down to 61 adults, and 75 kittens (38 of who are orphaned and on their own). Note: Florida has close to 100 adult mountain lions and that population size is considered so vulnerable to extinction and inbreeding that the animals are protected by the Federal Endangered Species Act.
* During South Dakota's five mountain lion hunting seasons, the annual harvest quota and mortality totals has steadily increased (2005-13, 2006-16, 2007-19, 2009-30, 2010-40), and the new management plan proposes even greater recreational hunting quotas.
* In South Dakota's proposed 2010-2015 Mountain Lion Management Plan, SDGF&P
proudly states that "With the use of science-based knowledge to make management
decisions, this plan will ensure a healthy, self-sustaining population of mountain lions in
the Black Hills of South Dakota." If SDGF&P's biologists truly believe that statement,
then they have a really twisted idea of what a healthy, self-sustaining population of
mountain lions truly is.
Back in 1889, the first time South Dakota had a mountain lion "management" plan they
managed to eradicate the species from the entire state in 17 years. I wonder how long it will take to achieve the same results if this new management plan is approved unchanged.
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The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks is accepting public comment on their new mountain lion management plan through July 26th.
Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
Or you can write to:
Mountain Lion Plan Comments
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks
523 E Capitol Avenue
Pierre, SD 57501
To learn more about mountain lions in South Dakota, and review the proposed management plan visit the South Dakota state page on MLF's website. To learn more about SDGF&P's mathematical errors and bad assumptions check out two related articles by MLF Outreach Coordinator Amy Rodrigues in the same section.