Rugged mountains at sunrise.
 
Opinion
Text: The editorial voice of the Mountain Lion Foundation.

4/4/2014

SDGFP Denies that South Dakota's Lion Population is in Trouble

South Dakota's 2014 mountain lion hunting season for the Black Hills region is now officially over, and despite prime lion hunting conditions, a relatively small hunt area, and the sale of more than 3,200 lion tags, hunters failed, for the second year in a row, to reach the Game Commission's quota. This year only 2/3rds (52) of the allowable mountain lions were killed by South Dakota trophy hunters, despite a 25 percent reduction from the previous year's quota.

While some might feel elated that once again fewer lions were killed than South Dakota's Game Commissioners wanted, many view this number with alarm and see it as more evidence of a possible population cascade.

John Kanta, South Dakota Game Fish & Parks' (SDGFP) Regional Wildlife Manager, was at a loss on how to explain this year's lion hunting results. However, he was adamant that the continued inability for South Dakota hunters to reach the quota had nothing to do with the health and sustainability of South Dakota's mountain lion population.

This statement was regarded with skepticism since it's exactly the type of data that SDGFP used to determine the number of lions residing in the Black Hills and to justify the annual lion hunting quotas in the first place.

Beyond the obvious fact that there appears to be fewer lions to kill than SDGFP claims, this season's three months of slaughter are especially troubling because of what was killed:

* 58 percent of the lions killed were females,

* 58 percent of the lions killed were dispersing lions under the age of three-years and probably had not yet found a territory or had a chance to breed the next generation of lions,

* 6 of the lions killed were spotted kittens, younger than six months old and still depending upon their mothers for survival,

* 1 lion was shot by a former state Senator while its foot was caught in a trap,

* 1 lion died of gunshot wounds, but wasn't counted by SDGFP in its final tally because whoever shot it had left it to die rather than track it down and put it out of its misery.

SDGFP has a lot to answer for:

* Questionable lion population models,

* Faulty math and assumptions made on so-called studies that are unavailable for public review,

* A disproportionate amount of females and young lions killed as dubious trophies, and

* A failure to admit that the local lion population has possibly been over-hunted and a hunting moratorium is needed to give the species some relief.

Trophy hunters are responsible for 76 percent of all the lions killed annually in South Dakota. Stopping the hunt will go a long way to helping the species survive.

It's time for South Dakotans to stop living in fear of mountain lions, and its time for SDGFP and the small, but vocal special interest group of trophy hunters to stop flaming those fears.