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MOUNTAIN LIONS IN SOUTH DAKOTA

In SDGF&P's 2010 Mountain Lion Management Plan, the State estimates that 251 mountain lions reside in the Black Hills. MLF's review found incorrect numbers, flawed mathematical equations, a series of bad scientific practices and assumptions, and a complete disregard of the basic biological and behavioral qualities of the species. As of June 2010, our best estimate of South Dakota's mountain lion population was a total not exceeding 149 lions. Due to ever increasing hunting quotas it is doubtfull that even that many lions still remain.

SUMMARY: Mountain Lions in South Dakota




Mountain Lion Habitat and Population in South Dakota

The state of South Dakota encompasses 75,896 square miles of land. Of this, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks (SDGF&P) considers only the Black Hills region of the state (5,220 square miles), or less than seven percent of the state's land area, as viable mountain lion habitat. This distinction is purely artificial and based solely on the Department's determination to restrict their management oversight of the South Dakota's mountain lion population to a small corner of the state.

The National GAP Analysis Programs listing of suitable habitat, and prey species probability virtually guarantees that mountain lions could exist anywhere within the state.

Map of mountain lion distribution in South Dakota.

Regional Characteristics of the Black Hills

Isolated by the surrounding grasslands of the Northern Great Plains, the Black Hills are part of the eastern most extension of the Rocky Mountains, and are located in west-central South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming.

The Black Hills are dome-shaped, sloping more steeply to the east than to the west with a high elevation of 7,241 feet above mean sea level. Forest cover in the Black Hills is predominantly ponderosa pine with codominants of white spruce and quaking aspen at higher elevations.

Large ungulate prey species available to mountain lions include: white-tailed deer, mule deer elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. In addition, porcupine and voles are commonly consumed by mountain lions in the Black Hills region.

South Dakota Mountain Lion Population Estimates

It is believed that the last mountain lion was extirpated in South Dakota in 1906. Over the next sixty-plus years, a few transient mountain lions originating in Wyoming would wander into the state, but this must have been a fairly rare occurrence because despite a bounty placed on every mountain lion killed in South Dakota there are no reports of a lion being killed until 1931, with the next not occurring until 1959.

In 1997, based on unverified anecdotal information, SDGF&P estimated that somewhere between 40 to 50 mountain lions resided in the Black Hills with an additional 15-25 on the western South Dakota prairie. Six years later the Department claimed that the results of a five-year research project indicated a population estimate of 127-149 lions (an almost 300 percent increase) within the Black Hills ecosystem alone.

In SDGF&P's 2010 Mountain Lion Management Plan, the Department now estimates that 251 mountain lions (138 adults and 113 kittens) reside in the Black Hills region of the state. While MLF has no direct knowledge regarding how many mountain lions there really are, we have difficulty accepting this "official" count, especially since it is being used to justify a drastic increase in the upcoming mountain lion hunting quotas. MLF's review of the management plan found incorrect numbers, flawed mathematical equations, a series of bad scientific practices and assumptions, and a complete disregard of the basic biological and behavioral qualities of the species.

As of June 2010, MLF's best estimate of South Dakota's mountain lion population would place it closer to the number range espoused by the Department back in 2003 with a total--both adult as well as kittens--not exceeding 149 lions.

History of Mountain Lion Management in South Dakota

From 1889 to 1966, a bounty was placed on mountain lions by the South Dakota legislature. Despite an assumed abundance of the species, mountain lions were effectively extirpated from the state by 1906 with only two reported lion deaths (1931 & 1959) occurring over the next sixty years. Concurrent bounty programs and unregulated hunting practices in surrounding states suppressed the entire region's mountain lion population and prevented recolonization of the species in South Dakota until the early 1970s.

By 1978 enough antidotal information was available to recognize the existence of a small breeding population in the Black Hills and for mountain lions to be classified as a State Threatened Species.

In addition to protection as a State Threatened Species under South Dakota's Endangered and Threatened Species Law, mountain lions were also protected under SDCL 41-8-2-1, which prohibited hunting of black bears, mountain lions, and wolves. This particular protection was removed in 1999 when SDCL 41-8-2-1 was repealed by the South Dakota State Legislature.

In 2003 mountain lions were removed from the State's threatened species list and reclassified as a big game animal (SDCL 41-1-1-4).

In 2005, South Dakota implemented an "experimental" mountain lion hunting season. SDGF&P "justified" this action in their 2003 Mountain Lion Management Plan for the following reasons:

  • Hunting "would communicate to some people that mountain lions are being managed responsibly."
  • "Hunting provides a considerable amount of high quality recreation."
  • Hunting provides the Department with a "proactive" vs. "reactive" means of dealing with problem lions (despite the fact that at the time South Dakota didn't seem to have many problem lions.) thus reducing the potential for lions receiving "bad publicity."
  • Hunting would provide the opportunity to continue the State's ongoing "mortality-based" lion research.
  • Hunting would help fund mountain lion management activities.
  • Hunting "is just another step in the evolution of responsible mountain lion management in South Dakota."

Since their reclassification as a Big Game Animal in 2003, the only protection mountain lions in South Dakota have comes from the regulated hunting statutes, and those "protections" are limited to only when and how many will be killed in any given year.

Ignoring Facts

The South Dakota Game Commission is possibly one of the most egregious examples of how lion hunting quotas have nothing to do with scientific facts.

South Dakota extirpated their indigenous lion population back in 1906. For almost a hundred years the slow process of recolonization took place and by 1997 it was estimated that there might have been as many as 50 lions residing in the Black Hills region of the state. Despite MLF's best efforts, less than ten years later the South Dakota Department of Game Fish & Parks (SDGFP) instituted its first lion hunting season. That first hunt had a quota of 25 lions or 5 females--whichever came first.

Click here to read MLF's Comment Letter to the SDGFP Commission.

Ignoring pleas from MLF as well as from many other noted lion experts, SDGFP has proposed increasing the annual lion hunting quota almost every year since. At first the increases were explained as a need to reduce the lion population, but lately the focus has shifted to satisfying the desires of the state Game Commission. For three years running (2009-2011), SDGFP officials assumed that the commission would want an increase over the previous year's quota and thereby proposed one. And each year, the Commission took the Department's new quota and raised it even further.

The Commissioners excused their actions by continually challenging the agency's lion population estimate, or by finding "testimony from hunters and landowners too compelling to ignore." Whatever the real reason, the Commission kept increasing the lion hunting quota until this year's proposed season reached 70 lions or 50 females. Before it ended in March, 73 lions died.

The Commission's newest quota of 100 lions or 70 females for the 2013 season has been justified by SDGFP's biologists on the premise that they miscalculated earlier lion population projections, and now believe that instead of 200, South Dakota has 303 lions: 45 adult males, 87 adult females, 33 sub-adult males, 35 sub-adult females and 103 kittens. No indication has been made by either SDGFP or the Commission on the obvious ramifications waiting the soon to be plethora of orphaned kittens if 70 of the state's remaining female lions are killed as proposed.

Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in South Dakota

Since the arrival of the first settlers, there were reports of mountain lions throughout South Dakota with the Black Hills region noted for where the animals were considered to be quite numerous. In 1889 the perceived mountain lion threat to livestock operations was considered so serious that a bounty was placed by the legislature on every mountain lion reported killed.

Seventeen years later, this perception proved to be a myth when mountain lions were basically eradicated from the state. Despite the bounty remaining in effect until 1966 only two mountain lion mortalities were reported (1931 & 1959) during a 54-year period from 1906 to 1959.

No mountain lions were reported killed in South Dakota between 1960 and 1995. Since then, 614 mountain lions have been killed, forty percent of which were a direct result of recreational sport hunting. A mortality breakdown is shown below:

MOUNTAIN LION MORTALITIES IN SOUTH DAKOTA

1996 - SEPTEMBER 28, 2012

TOTAL 614
Hunting 249
Vehicular Trauma 82
Illegal Killing 8
Intraspecific Strife / Infanticide 40
Sick or Emaciated 26
Depredation Removal 104
Preventive Removal 25
Accidental Trapping 20
Research 12
Miscellaneous Causes 4
Unknown Causes 42



Last Update: September 28, 2012

Does 2+2=5 in South Dakota?

07/16/10 Amy Rodrigues, MLF Outreach Coordinator

When the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks (SDGF&P) submitted the 2010-2015 Mountain Lion Management Plan, it included errors in math that will result in the unnecessary deaths of 80 to 100 adult lions, and the deaths of many kittens from slow starvation.

Mountain Lion Law in the State of South Dakota


In South Dakota's legal code, Puma concolor is generally referred to as "mountain lion."

Species Status

The species is classified as big game (Codified Laws 41-1-1) , along with all cloven-hoofed wild animals, black bear, and wild turkey.

Laws pertaining to South Dakota's endangered and threatened species (Codified Laws 34A-8) can apply to mountain lions because the law defines "endangered species" as "any species of wildlife or plants which is in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant part of its range other than a species of insects determined by the Game, Fish and Parks Commission or the secretary of the United States Department of Interior to constitute a pest whose protection under this chapter would present an overwhelming and overriding risk to man."

State Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of South Dakota is governed by the South Dakota Codified Laws -- the collection of all current laws passed by the state legislature. Since our summary below may not be completely up to date, you should be sure to review the most current law for the State of South Dakota.

You can check the statutes directly at a state-managed website: http://legis.sd.gov/statutes/Codified_Laws/

These statutes are searchable. Be sure to use the name "mountain lion" to accomplish your searches.

The Legislature

The South Dakota Legislature is a part-time, bicameral state legislature. The lower chamber -- the House of Representatives -- is made up of 70 members who serve 2-year terms. The Republican Party has controlled the South Dakota House of Representatives since at least 1992. The upper chamber -- the Senate -- consists of 35 members who also serve 2-year terms. The Republican Party has controlled the South Dakota Senate since 1995. Members of both chambers are limited to four terms. If you do not know who your state legislators are, the state maintains this website: Who Are My Legislators to help you find your legislators. If you already know who your legislators are, you can contact them using the House of Representatives Roster and the Senate Roster .

The South Dakota Constitution requires the state legislature to convene regular sessions at noon on the second Tuesday of January each year. The state constitution does not limit the duration of regular sessions, but the legislature generally adjourns in late March. The governor may call special sessions of either chamber or the legislature as a whole. The legislature may also call itself into special sessions upon the written request of two-thirds of the members of each house. There is no limit on the length of special sessions, but the legislature may use the session to conduct business on the subject for which it was convened.

State Regulation

The state regulations concerning mountain lions can be found in the Department of Game, Fish and Parks section of Article 41 of the Administrative Rules of South Dakota. The regulations are set by the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission sets the state's wildlife regulations. The commission serves as a link between the department and the people of South Dakota, allowing the public to comment on proposed regulations. The commission is made up of eight members appointed by the governor and confirmed by the South Dakota Senate. Commissioners serve 4-year terms with two commissioners' terms expiring each year. No more than four commissioners may be from the same political party. At least four commissioners must be farmers at the time of their appointment. State law (Chapter 41-2-2) also requires that three commissioners reside west of the Missouri River and five reside east of the Missouri River at the time of their appointment.

South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP) (South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks (GFP)) (also referred to as South Dakota Game Fish, and Parks) enforces the state's wildlife regulations. Unlike in other states where the commission oversees the department, South Dakota law ( (Chapter 41-2-1.2) tasks South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks with supervising the Game, Fish and Parks Commission's activities. South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks is a department in the state executive branch.


Link to the state's map of hunting regions.


Management Plan

South Dakota's current mountain lion management plan is the South Dakota Mountain Lion Management Plan 2010-2015 . The plan is prepared by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks and guides the department's mountain lion policies.

Hunting Law

Hunting of mountain lions is allowed in the State of South Dakota. Only South Dakota residents may hunt mountain lions in the state. The regulations regulations and laws governing "recreational" hunting of mountain lions (Chapter 41-8) split the state into the Black Hills Fire Protection District and all land outside the district. Mountain lion season is year-round, except in the Black Hills Fire Protection District. Mountain lion hunting season in the Black Hills Fire Protection District runs from December 26 to March 31 or until the harvest quota is met.

Hound hunting is allowed (Chapter 41-8-15).

South Dakota allows the hunting of mountain lions with shoulder-held firearms that produce at least 1,000 foot-pounds of energy, handguns that produce at least 500 foot-pounds of energy at the muzzle, and bows and arrows. Muzzle loading rifles may be used. Self-loading firearms used to hunt mountain lions may carry no more than six cartridges at a time. All firearms used must be non-automatic. Shotguns must fire a single ball or slug weighing at least half an ounce. Crossbows may be used by disabled hunters.

Link to the fire protection districts.

The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission sets a harvest quota and a female-specific quota for the Black Hills Fire Protection District.

Public Safety Law

South Dakota law (Chapter 41-6-29.2) states that any person may kill a mountain lion "if reasonably necessary to protect the life of that person or some other person." The killing must then be reported to a conservation officer within 24 hours. The law does not say what is to be done with the lion's carcass.

Depredation Law

South Dakota law (Chapter 41-6-29.2) allows any livestock owner or care provider to "kill any mountain lion posing an imminent threat to such person's livestock or pets." The killing must then be reported to a conservation officer within 24 hours. The law does not say what is to be done with the lion's carcass.

When there is depredation by mountain lions that cannot be resolved in any other way, South Dakota law (Chapter 41-6-29.1) allows the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission to authorize the secretary of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks issue a limited number of depredation permits.

Owners of domestic animals do not appear to be required to take certain steps to protect their pets or livestock. There also does not appear to be a government-funded compensation program for losses of domestic animals to mountain lions.

Trapping

Mountain lions may not be trapped for fur in South Dakota.

Poaching

Poaching law in the State of South Dakota provides some protection of mountain lions in law, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. South Dakota law (Chapter 41-1-4) states that the wanton destruction of any animal protected by the state's laws is a class 2 misdemeanor. A class 2 misdemeanor (Chapter 22-6-2) is punishable by up to 30 days of imprisonment and a fine of up to $500. The poacher is also liable for $5,000 in civil damages (Chapter41-1-5.1) .

Road Mortalities

The South Dakota Department of Transportation does not keep records of mountain lions killed on the State's roads.

Captivity

South Dakota regulations (Chapter) 41:09:18) govern the temporary possession of mountain lions for rehabilitation purposes. In order to rehabilitate mountain lions in South Dakota, an individual must possess a wildlife rehabilitator permit allowing them to care for mountain lions. Permit applicants must be South Dakota residents at least 21 years of age and must complete an application furnished by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. A department representative will inspect the applicant's facilities before issuance of a permit and at any time after issuance to ensure compliance with the latest edition of Minimum Standards for Wildlife Rehabilitation compiled by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association and International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. Permits expire annually on January 31 and must be renewed. Rehabilitated animals may not be released without the approval of the release region's wildlife manager. Mountain lions being rehabilitated remain property of the state of South Dakota and may not be permanently possessed by the rehabilitator. The lions may also not be displayed during their rehabilitation. Any lion deemed nonreleasable must be humanely euthanized.

Research

Mountain lion research is usually conducted in collaboration with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks. The laws governing scientific collection in South Dakota can be found here (Chapter 41:09:16. Researchers must apply for a scientific collector's license. The application must contain complete information on the number of lions to be collected, the method of collection, the location(s) of collection, the collection period, how the collected specimens will be used, the institution for which the collections are being made, and how the specimens will be disposed of. Licenses may only be granted to individuals, institutions, and societies that the secretary of the Department of Game, Fish and Parks deems to be bona fide scientific researchers. Researchers must keep complete records of all specimens collected including the date of collection, the location(s) of collection, and how specimens were disposed of. Collection reports must be submitted to the Department of Game, Fish and Parks no later than January 31 of the year following the issuance of the scientific collector's license. Published studies can be found on South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks website (Department of Game, Fish and Parks website). Long-term mountain lion research projects in South Dakota have taken place in the Black Hills.

CLICK TO VIEW DOCUMENTS ABOUT LIONS IN SOUTH DAKOTA


South Dakota 2010-2015 Mountain Lion Management Plan and Related Articles

Video - South Dakota GFP Commission Public Meeting August 2, 2012 
Comments - Cougar Rewilding Foundation - 2010-2015 South Dakota Mountain Lion Management Plan - Draft 
MLF Comment Letter to SDGFP - Oppose 2013 Hunt Proposal 
Commission August Minutes - 2011 Hunting Approved 
Commission Proposal - Mountain Lion Hunting 
Commission Proposal - Mountain Lion Hunting in Custer State Park 
Commission Proposal - Mountain Lion Hunting Methods 
MLF Comments on South Dakota Draft 2010 - 2015 Mountain Lion Management Plan 
South Dakota GF&P Commissioner List - 3.19.2010 
PBS radio interview with Jenks & Huhnerkoch 7-07-10 
South Dakota 2010 Mountain Lion Management Plan Review Announcement 
South Dakota Hunters Concerned that Cougars May be Impacting Deer and Elk Populations  
South Dakota Mountain Lion Management Plan 2010-2015 (Draft) 
70 Percent Females - Best Frat Party Ever! Wake Up, South Dakota  
South Dakota's "2 + 2 = 5" Mountain Lion Population Estimate Error  
South Dakota's Twisting Science  

Additional South Dakota Materials

Population Demographics of Cougars in the Black Hills - Daniel Thompson Dissertation 
Sinapu Comment 5.5.05 South Dakota Experimental Hunting Season 
South Dakota 2001 Mountain Lion Status Report - Proceedings from the 6th Mountain Lion Workshop  
South Dakota 2005 - 2009 Mountain Lion Hunting Harvest Numbers 
South Dakota 2008 Mountain Lion Status Report - Proceedings from the 9th Mountain Lion Workshop  
South Dakota 2008 Mountain Lion Summary Report  
South Dakota 2009 Mountain Lion Hunter Survey 
South Dakota 2009 Mountain Lion Hunter Survey Summary 
South Dakota 2009 Mountain Lion Report Summary 
South Dakota 2010 Mountain Lion Harvest Map 
South Dakota 2010 Mountain Lion Hunting Harvest Data 
South Dakota Lion Hunting - House Bill 1004 
South Dakota Lion Hunting - Senate Bill 75 
South Dakota Mountain Lion Management Plan 2003-2012 
South Dakota Mountain Lion Public Opinion Poll - 2005 
South Dakota Mountain Lion Public Opinion Poll - 2005 Addendum 
South Dakota Mountain Lion Public Opinion Poll 2002 
South Dakota Report to Survey Participants - 2009 Mountain Lion Hunting Season Evaluation 
South Dakota Residents Wildlife Value Report