Changes needed in mountain lion hunt

Changes needed in mountain lion hunt
This is the group that filed a lawsuit a few weeks ago, and were unsuccessful in their attempts to halt a mountain lion hunting season in South Dakota.

In their most recent press release, the group notes that it appreciates the efforts by South Dakota Game Fish and Parks officials to locate and capture four nursing mountain lion kittens who were orphaned when their mother was killed in the hunt.

The fact that the kittens were orphaned in the first place, the group claims, points out a major flaw in the state's mountain lion hunting regulations.

It's easy to label the Mountain Lion Foundation as a radical bunch of out-of-staters that have no business sticking their noses in South Dakota's affairs.

The organization has made a valid point, however.

Hunting is more than a sport in South Dakota. It's a rite of passage. And as it is passed down from generation to generation, with elders teaching future hunters all there is to know about gun safety and hunting regulations, one rule seems to stand out above all others: female game are off limits.

The logic is simple enough for a young teenaged hunter to understand. Wildlife numbers can be well managed without an equal number of males and females.

The population of game can be put at risk, however, if too many females, which hold the key to producing new critters every spring, are taken.

Thus, pheasant hunters are always trying their best to flush roosters. Duck hunters take aim at drakes, and deer hunters focus their efforts on bagging bucks.

Three mountain lion kittens rescued by a team of state biologists Tuesday have been shipped to South Dakota State University in Brookings, according to a news report in the Rapid City Journal, where they will be part of a research study.

George Vandel, assistant Wildlife Division director for the state Game, Fish & Parks Department in Pierre, said that the three kittens, orphaned when a hunter shot their mother, were flown to Sioux Falls on Wednesday morning on a state plane that was headed there for other business. Jon Jenks, a professor and researcher at SDSU Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences, met the plane and took the kittens to Brookings, Vandel said.

"It's a fully accredited lab that abides by all of the animal welfare, animal use and research laws and protocols," Vandel said. "The facility has actually been inspected by the Humane Society of the United States and meets all standards."

Along with the research project, Vandel said Jenks also would test the cats for disease, including feline leukemia.

Contacted later in the day, Jenks said the lions would be kept in a wire-cage facility with bedding. Eventually, after they have been acclimated to food, they will have access to a larger enclosure where the research will occur.

There's a problem with all of this. The hunting season wasn't designed to help GF&P officials gain access to young mountain lion cubs for research.

The season was approved as a means to control what appears to be an ever-expanding lion population. Our corner of the state, so far removed from the Black Hills of South Dakota, isn't too far for mountain lions to stray, apparently. In June 2004, a mountain lion was shot and killed in Yankton by officials who feared it could pose a risk to humans.

The maximum lion kill for this season is 25, but the season also will end if five breeding-age females are shot. Because two were shot in the first two days of the hunting, the season will end if three more adult females are taken. And if any of those are lactating, GF&P could be facing another search.

The fact that the first two lions taken in this new hunting season points out what we believe to be a major flaw. State officials need to design a season in a different fashion, in a way that targets the cats that cause the most trouble, specifically, the young males.

One way to do that is to take hunters out of the more isolated parts of the Black Hills and focus hunting pressure closer to communities, where most of the problem lions seem to frequent.

We hope state officials will consider these changes, to at least reduce the chances of other lactating females being killed.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net

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