For the third year in a row, the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks (SDGF&P) Commission has decided that they know more than their own agency's experts. They have concluded that if "more" is acceptable for the Department, then "twice" more must be better and should be enacted by the Commission. Such, apparently, was the reasoning behind the SDGF&P Commission's recent decision to once again double the Department's proposed annual quota increase of 10 lions for the upcoming hunting season. As a result South Dakota's mountain lion hunting quota for the 2012 season has now been raised to 70 lions, 50 of which are allowed to be females (out of a total population of possibly 200 lions--including kittens). This quota is the highest since South Dakota resumed mountain lion hunting in 2005, and the excessively high percentage of allowable female mortalities brings into question a possible hidden agenda on the part of some commission members to once more extirpate the species from the state.
Whatever the excuse for this large (percentage-wise) lion mortality quota, certain justifications can be ruled out:
1) We know the Commission's decision can't be based on advice from SDGF&P's biologists. Even though the Department's lion population model might (as MLF contends) be flawed and over-inflates the potential number of adult lions, the Commission decided not to go with their suggested quota. Some commissioners even believe that the Department's lion population count is too low.
2) It is also obvious that many of the Commission members were not basing their decision on scientific evidence. Commissioner Olson voiced his opinion that no matter how many lions had been killed in previous seasons he "found it 'amazing' that the lion population doesn't show any significant effects." We are not exactly sure what would constitute a "significant affect," for Mr. Olson because even SDGF&P biologists are admitting to at least a 10 percent drop in the state's overall lion population after just one hunting season (2010). Most reputable scientists warn against broaching the 14 percentile annual mortality limit for a statewide hunting region, much less the very limited expanse of South Dakota's Black Hills. South Dakota's new lion hunting mortality quota more than doubles that percentage.
3) Even the excuse of protecting South Dakota's elk and deer herds is just absurd. Six years ago the Commission voted to increase the annual elk hunting quota to help protect farmers from the ongoing depredation of their crops. The pretext that lions are responsible for the now reduced elk herd because they killed 14 elk calves is ludicrous. As for the rumor that the deer population is being decimated by lions--SDGF&P reported a 2010 hunting harvest of 94,726 deer, an 8 percent increase from 2009's numbers.
4) The final and most voiced justification--the will of the people--would be laughable if the results weren't so tragic. According to all reports only 28 individuals (via letter or personal testimony) asked for an increase in South Dakota's lion hunting quota. Even in a state with as small a population as South Dakota, translating the personal opinions of 28 people into an over-riding "mandate" is a little hard to accept. Throughout our nation, poll after poll has repeatedly shown that the public does not want America's lions hunted for recreational sport, much less hunted more!
Only the individual Commissioners can know the real reason why they voted to ignore the latest scientific studies and the advice of their own experts. Unfortunately as a result, six have proven themselves unworthy to hold their post for the public trust, and a precious natural resource--a keystone species in a healthy ecosystem--will now possibly be once again exterminated from the state.
At least this time history will know whom to blame . . . . Comment on this article.