So much for being ‘born free’

So much for being 'born free'
South Dakota's first mountain lion season in the Black Hills is over � for now.

The hunt ended Monday with the harvest of a fifth breeding-age female cat.

Game, Fish and Parks Wildlife Biologist Steve Griffin of Rapid City said the animal was taken around 7:15 a.m. Monday morning by a hunter specifically pursuing lions about eight miles south of Lead. The cat was estimated to be 4 to 5 years old, in good health and weighed in at 90 pounds.

We're glad the hunt has ended. As we mentioned in an editorial earlier this month, we are uneasy with some aspects of this whole affair.

Such as orphaned kittens.

We've noted that hunting is a rite of passage in South Dakota, and one of the first rules youngsters learn is there are certain guidelines one follows when taking game of practically every variety � winged, swimming and four-legged.

You try to only shoot rooster pheasants. If the fish you pull from a lake or river is too small, you throw it back.

But it apparently is practically impossible to distinguish a female mountain lion from a male.

We've already admitted in earlier commentary that we find this aspect of the hunt disturbing.

Further reflection has helped us more closely define exactly what's bugging us.

It is, ironically, not the mountain lion hunt.

It's the kitten hunt.

After a hunter bagged the first lactating female cat, Game, Fish and Parks officials did something unprecedented.

They scouted for, and found the cat's litter of orphaned kittens.

In all, three searches for kittens were made by the GF&P after hunters reduced the Black Hills mountain lion population by three females.

If our information is correct, six kittens have been recovered. They are no longer living in the wild. We know that some of the kittens are at South Dakota State University, where they will used for research.

The lion kittens will live the rest of their lives in captivity. Right now, their home is not the beautiful forests of the Black Hills, but rather a wire-cage facility with bedding. Eventually, after the kittens 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.

So much for being "born free."

The kitten rescues represent an interesting change of heart on the GF&P's part.

Every spring, we receive news releases from the agency in which officials emphatically state that people should stay away from orphaned wildlife.

We are supposed to let nature take its course.

What about all the deer fawns that will be orphaned this spring and summer when their mom gets hit by cars and trucks � or even, in the case of late births, by hunters next deer season? Or how about the elk calves or bighorn sheep lambs that are orphaned when their mom gets killed by a mountain lion?

Coyote pups? Fox pups? Bobcat kittens?

Well, apparently it's different with the mountain lion kittens, the GF&P believes. Evidently, the lions are a special case. They're are being treated as a special, unique species.

Let's see. Mountain lions are so plentiful that we're having a lion season to cut the population. And they're so unique that we organize search parties to "save" every orphaned kitten we can.

This sounds like a beautiful mix of politics and biology. Maybe that's why it's easy for nature to suddenly find itself in the back seat.

It's a bad decision.

We can't help but wonder if the GF&P truly has an accurate estimate of the number of cats in the Hills. We also wonder how much is known about mountain lion migration. We know they've been moving. But the season is still open on cats outside of the Hills. And, none have been spotted.

We'd feel better about future hunts if they could be justified with more precise information.

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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