The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commissioners voted unanimously this morning to approve their game agency's proposed 2013 lion hunting quota of 70 females or 100 total lions. They also authorized the use of hounds for the hunt in Custer State Park and extended a year-round no-limit hunting season for lions outside of the Black Hills. Lions killed outside the Black Hills region of the state will not be considered in the quota count.
The Mountain Lion Foundation fought hard alongside a coalition of conservation groups and local lion activists to stop the madness, but unfortunately our efforts were not sufficient to overcome the mindset of a commission determined to extirpate the species as their forefathers did one hundred years ago.
The South Dakota Game Commission is one of the most egregious examples of state game commissions setting high lion hunting quotas in spite of compelling scientific facts that lion populations will be harmed or destroyed. Commissioners have repeatedly ignored the advice of even their own staff biologists and have excused their actions by finding "testimony from hunters and landowners too compelling to ignore."
Apparently such is the case again. Despite the flurry of e-mails, calls, and petition signatures presented by MLF, as well as calm insightful testimony by Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation President, Sharon Seneczko, as well as representatives of sportsmen-oriented groups such as the Izaak Walton League and South Dakota Wildlife Federation, the Commission chose to believe the small group of attending lion hunters who testified on their belief that South Dakota's lions were responsible for eating 13,000 deer each year: thereby making it harder for them to do the same.
While the new hunting quota of 100 lions may seem small when compared to that of other states, South Dakota's new "official" lion population estimate (which most experts discount as exaggerated to justify the Commission's actions) is a total statewide population of only 303 lions: 45 adult males, 87 adult females, 33 sub-adult males, 35 sub-adult females and 103 kittens.
If the female quota is reached--which has happened almost every season--hunters could kill 80 percent of South Dakota's adult female lion population, a possibility that has many biologists shaking their heads in disbelief.
What's more, the hunting quota doesn't even consider the entire picture. Each year, an average of 40 lions die in South Dakota as a result of illegal hunts, trapping, poaching, depredation, public safety removals, road kills, and natural causes. These deaths weren't even considered by the Commission when it set the 2013 lion hunting quota.
South Dakota's 2012 lion hunt quota of 70 lions was not only exceed during the hunt (January 1 - March 31) by an extra 3 lions, but as of September 28, 2012 there have been an additional 26 recorded lion deaths. That means that so far this year South Dakota's lion population has lost 99 lions--not 73 as state game agency keeps telling the public.
MLF's supporters rallied to the cause and did everything we asked of them in our efforts to convince South Dakota's game commission to see reason and make management decisions based on peer-reviewed scientific facts. That didn't work. Now it's time to take the next step.
The Mountain Lion Foundation is considering legal recourse to stop South Dakota's 2013 lion hunt. We tried a similar action in 2005, but at the time could not prove "irreparable harm." This time, we believe it will be hard for our opponents to argue that the breeding population of lions in South Dakota will not be set back decades. The South Dakota game commissioners have clearly violated the public's trust and their actions will not only harm South Dakota's lion population, but could also hinder the natural recolonization of lions to the Midwest and other portions of their historic range.
You can help South Dakota's lions by either making a tax deductible donation to the Mountain Lion Foundation so that MLF can continue its public education efforts in South Dakota and surrounding states, or by contributing directly to MLF's new South Dakota Legal Defense Fund
Together we will end the madness!