Historically, mountain lions inhabited most of North Dakota, though they were only abundant in the Little Missouri Badlands region. Though there was never a bounty on mountain lions in North Dakota, they were hunted to local extirpation.
Decades later, a small number of cats recolonized North Dakota and established a self-sustaining population. Despite having a population of only a couple dozen cats, the state of North Dakota implemented a hunting season in 2005 and has raised the quota a handful of times since then.
Historically, mountain lions inhabited most of North Dakota, though they were only abundant in the Little Missouri Badlands region. Though there was never a bounty on mountain lions in North Dakota, they were hunted to local extirpation. The last confirmed mountain lion harvested was in 1902 along the Missouri River south of Williston. There were only 10 reports of mounitan lions in southwestern North Dakota between 1958 and 1980. After a young female was shot near Golva in 1991, the state reclassified mountain lions as a fur-bearer and provisions were also made to allow removal of individual animals for property protection and human safety concerns. Before 1991, mountain lions had no protections and could be legally killed at any time.
By the early 2000s, the number of reports confirmed by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department had increased to a level that demanded attention. The state began to recognize that there was a very small population residing in the Badlands, Missouri River Breaks, and Kildeer Mountain regions.
Despite having a population of only a couple dozen cats, the state of North Dakota implemented a limited hunting season with an initial quota of 5 cats in 2005. It was legal to kill kittens as well as adults. This quota was later raised to 21 and kitten harvest was prohibited.
In 2014 and 2016, North Dakota Game and Fish and South Dakota State University completed studies designed to generate population estimates and to find out how the population may be changing. With such proportionately large hunting quotas, it is no surprise that they found the small population of mountain lions to be declining. Researchers also discovered that this small population could fall victim to inbreeding depression without immigration from nearby populations in Montana and South Dakota. Encouragingly, the studies also found that there was minimal predation on livestock and that most harvested individuals were healthy at the time in which they were killed.
Since this study was published, the mountain lion quota was reduced from 21 to 15. Mountain lions may be legally harvested using legal firearms or archery equipment. Starting in 2017, hunters may legally use hounds as well.