After an absence of more than a hundred years, mountain lions are slowly returning to parts of their historic range. Some lion populations, such as the one located in the Black Hills of South Dakota are uniquely positioned to help repopulate the Midwestern states of Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, and Iowa. Unfortunately pro-lion hunting interests are already making sure that does not occur.
Since their indigenous lion populations were wiped out in the mid to late 1800s most states east of the Rockies have no laws governing the management or handling of mountain lions. Such was the case for Iowa back in 2009 when a deer hunter by the name of Raymond Goebel shot and killed the first lion to be sighted in that state for decades. Mr. Goebel's act of willful destruction didn't come about in the name of public safety or to protect his livestock.
He came across that lion as it was peacefully lounging in a tree in the deep woods. Mr. Goebel then called the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and spent over thirty minutes on his cell phone determining that there was no law preventing him from killing the animal if he wanted too. With no thought towards this precious natural resource belonging to all Iowans, Mr. Goebel selfishly shot the lion so he would have a "trophy" of his hunting prowess.
That same mean-spirited attitude appears to be alive in Nebraska today.
Last year the Nebraska legislature decided to list mountain lions as a "game animal." They were supported in this endeavor by the local chapter of the Audubon Society in its misguided attempt to protect Nebraska's fledgling lion population from hunters like Mr. Goebel. They were mistaken. Now, just a few months after the law's passage, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is considering a mountain lion hunting season for next winter.
When the Mountain Lion Foundation inquired in October of 2012 as to Nebraska's "official" estimated lion population we were informed that the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission was "in the process of creating a population estimate for mountain lions in Nebraska but do not have the results at this time." Now, three months later, Nebraska's Carnivore Manager is telling the press that Nebraska has an estimated permanent population of around 22 cats which in his opinion ". . . is large enough for a limited harvest."
LIMITED HARVEST ???? Twenty-two was close to the number of lions in Florida when they were placed on the Federal Endangered Species List in 1967. Those lions are still under Federal protection and official estimates place that population at between 80 and 100 lions. How can a small population of 22 lions sustain the added mortality level incurred from recreational hunting?
It's not often that one gets a second chance and that's just what's Nebraska has now. An integral part of that state's natural heritage was lost when the last indigenous lion was killed in the 1890s. Now that at least one breeding pair of mountain lions are known to have returned to the state, Nebraskans have a chance to show the world that their society has matured enough to peacefully coexist with these creatures. But that won't happen unless Nebraskans stand up for what's right and don't let a few hunters steal their wildlife heritage. AGAIN!