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Opinion
Text: The editorial voice of the Mountain Lion Foundation.

8/18/2011

What is the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks Hiding?

While most state game agencies have a tendency to hold information close to their chests, SDGF&P seems to have reached new heights in the art of bureaucratic "disclosure/nondisclosure." For example, in the Department's recent proposal to raise the annual lion hunting quota by 20 percent it cited "current research results and population modeling" as their justification for this egregious action. The problem is that SDGF&P hasn't released any research information or lion population modeling to the public to back up their claims.

Just over a year ago, when the same people published their 2010 - 2015 lion management plan, the Mountain Lion Foundation challenged SDGF&P on the validity of its conclusions and pointed out that the document was full of incorrect data, flawed mathematical calculations, a series of bad scientific practices and assumptions, and a complete disregard of the basic biological and behavioral qualities of the species. The Department's response to our accusations was that despite what was stated in the "official" document, their numbers and conclusions were actually based on an unpublished and unavailable (to MLF anyway) research project.

SDGF&P's biologists have indicated that the increased lion mortality level might achieve the low end of the Department's lion population objective and gloss over the fact that many of those left will be starving, orphaned kittens and sub-adults (teenagers)--the very ones most inclined to get into human/lion conflicts.

The Department also neglects to address the issue of population density. The nation's top lion researchers note that even in those states where lion hunting takes place, the average density level is 1.7 lions per 100 square kilometers. The South Dakota Black Hills (where the preponderance of that state's lions live) encompasses around 13,520 square kilometers. Based on that formula, South Dakota should maintain, at the minimum, 230 lions--not the 150 or so distressed survivors that might remain at the end of the season.

The Department's final betrayal of the public's trust is the 33 percent increase in allowable female lion mortalities. Most state game agencies worry if the female mortality numbers reach 40 percent of the overall hunting quota. South Dakota apparently revels in bucking the national trend. SDGF&P's proposed 2011 lion hunting quota will now allow the female mortality level to reach 60 percent of the total lion hunting quota before they will consider closing the lion hunting season.

Those are a lot of risky acts and questionable assumptions for the SDGF&P to justify to the citizenry of South Dakota, and to the rest of the nation. But it should be fairly easy for them to do since the data they are basing their decisions on will never see the light of public scrutiny--if it even exists!



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