Two dozen people spoke in favor this afternoon of Game, Fish and Parks’ proposal to allow hunters to kill more mountain lions during South Dakota’s 2012 season that opens in January.
Many of the people at the GFP commission public hearing said they’re seeing fewer deer and elk in the Black Hills and neighboring prairie, and some said they’re seeing more lion tracks and more sites where lions killed prey.
The commissioners have scheduled a vote for Friday morning. Various speakers suggested there are more lions that what the state Wildlife Division has estimated in the Black Hills. One of those making that point was a past GFP commissioner, Tim Kessler of Aberdeen.
Kessler said the big-game biologists work hard and are smart but there seems to be something wrong with their data. “We’ve been behind the curve for years, and it’s time to jump out ahead,” he said.
Seventeen of the people who spoke said they favored taking more lions than in the past, while three
pposed raising the harvest limits. Four others made comments about specific points but didn’t take a clear position on the harvest numbers.
The commission needs to slow down and see more data from biologists before raising the kill once again, said Susan Seneczko of Custer, president of the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation. “At this point it really goes against good science to increase it every year,” she said.
Seneczko also disagreed with speakers who cited the first year of a GFP study on mortality of elk calves. Mountain lions were found to be a significant cause but the study has been small in size so far.
“It is way too early in the game,” she said. “This is raw data. This is not the result of a study yet.”
Tom Blair, who owns a campground within Deadwood’s city limits, said he’s found seven places within the camp where lions had killed deer during recent years.
“I don’t disagree with the idea of using good science, but good science includes what’s in front of your face, in front of your eyes,” Blair said.
South Dakota sold 2,335 licenses for the 2011 season. Hunters took a total of 49 mountain lions -- 22 males and 27 females – between the main season and the special season in Custer State Park.
The commission set harvest limits of 45 lions total and 30 females for the main season in 2011. The season closed when the total harvest was reached. The Custer State Park season, which was open to 10 hunters who had been chosen in a lottery, was limited to five lions. Two were taken in the park.
The Wildlife Division’s proposal for the 2012 season calls for allowing 60 lions to be taken and up to 40 females. Those numbers would cover the general season and the park. The season would shut down when the total quota or the female sub-quota was first reached.
A special drawing would be used for the Custer State Park season in 2012. The plan calls for drawing six groups of 15 hunters. Each group would be allowed to hunt in the park for a 15-day period while the season remains open.
The commission’s proposal for 2012 aims at reaching a target population of 175 lions in the Black Hills, give or take 25 either way. The population has been estimated at about 200 currently, but one speaker noted today the number excludes many places in the Black Hills.
The population was estimated at 250 during the past two years.