Bill could remove lions from endangered list

Bill could remove lions from endangered list by Andrea Skalland Farmers and ranchers will now need to notify the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks before taking action to protect their land and livestock from predators.

HB1040, passed the full House Jan. 26. The bill will take mountain lions off the state�s endangered species list and put them into a management category.

If a mountain lion threatens a farmer or rancher�s crop, land or livestock he can take reasonable action if the Department of Game, Fish and Parks has been notified of the problem at least 48 hours in advance. That will give the department the chance to take care of the problem before the landowner.

In the past six to seven years, there have been only two problems with livestock and mountain lions threatening livestock in the state.

John Cooper of the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks introduced the bill. He said the number of mountain lions in South Dakota has been on the rise for the past six to seven years. Cooper said in 1996, of 35 sightings, 28 were confirmed. All the sightings were within six to seven counties in western South Dakota. In 1998, 52 reports were made in 14 counties.

Cooper estimated there are about 50 to 70 mountain lions in western South Dakota. They are in the Black Hills as well as on prairie land, he said. However, he said there have been reports of mountain lions on the eastern side of the state, as well. There was a sighting near Canton and a mountain lion was found dead near Yankton.

�There are lions out there,� Cooper said. �At this point there have been no problems, but we want to be able to manage the critters so we can avoid major problems.�

The bill states that anyone over the age of 16 who unlawfully and willfully kills, destroys, takes or possesses a mountain lion is liable to the state for damages. The damages are $5,000 for each elk, mountain lion or buffalo; $10,000 for each mountain goat or mountain sheep; $1,000 for each deer, antelope or bobcat not killed during the respective hunting season, if there is one.

Damages will be waived if an uninjured big game animal is returned to the place it was captured, or where the department directs.

According to Cooper, the purpose of the bill is to establish civil damages that result with any other big game hunting violations. However, actually hunting a mountain lion would be illegal, Cooper said.

The full House passed the bill with a vote of 52-12. Rep. Judy Clark, R-Vermillion, and William Earley, R-Sioux Falls, were excused. Rep. Jim Putnam, R-Armour was absent.

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