There’s a Game Fish and Parks Commissioners meeting this last weekend at the new Outdoor Learning Center in Rapid City. Opponents of the proposed 60 lion quota for this coming hunting season have been voicing their concern that the harvest of too many adult lions has led to an increase in human/lion encounters. Young lions have yet to develop healthy boundaries and there have been several lion incidents in the last month. A pair of young lions killed a dog in Spearfish Canyon and another killed several goats near Hermosa.
Dr. Sharon Seneczko of the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation describes this recent lion behavior as a type of hunter caused chaos. Dr. Seneczko believes that if family units were allowed to remain intact, that adult female lions would be more likely to train their young to hunt traditional food sources such as deer, elk, and porcupines. There is no way to argue with that logic. But there is room for compromise.
Hunters have been pressuring the commissioners to reduce the numbers of lions. At last estimates, lions were eating as many deer in the Black Hills as human hunters. Reducing the number of lions will arguably allow diminished deer herds to recover. This theory works only if the commissioners are also willing to reduce the number of human hunters as well.
For years, until this last season, adult hunters were allowed to apply for up to five doe tags for each of their qualified children under the age of 16. Licenses were valid statewide. Many hunters made the youth deer season a family vacation and did their hunting in the Black Hills. Also adding to the herd reduction were multiple archery doe and muzzleloader tags that were valid statewide. Of the more than 200,000 deer tags sold in the state last year, nearly 30,000 were archery and another 7,000 were youth tags. This season, the GFP did step up and limit the use of these statewide permits in the Black Hills. Unfortunately, they still allowed two hundred doe tags in Lawrence County. Each archery hunter was still allowed to take a doe in the Hills and each youth deer hunter also. While many of these permits might not have been used in the Hills, they could have been. It is time for the commissioners to get serious about rebuilding the Black Hills deer and elk populations.
Commissions should consider placing a moratorium on the doe harvest while implementing the 60 lion quota and perhaps the Black Hills Lion Foundation should support the harvest of young lions. Currently no lion may be shot if in the company of another lion. The state supports the harvest of fawns and calf elk for the purpose of population control. We are now in the position of population control with lions. Language that was initially designed to limit the harvest of young lions should be eliminated from hunting regulations to allow for a rebuilding period among the prey species. I’ve seen four lions together at one time, none had spots and all were approximately the same size. If hunters were allowed to harvest lions in such a situation, there is a 75% chance that two young lions would get to keep their teacher.
Last season’s hunter survey report was published with an incredible number of hunter comments on lion numbers. 13.2% of deer hunters reported seeing a lion. This is more than double the previous five year average.
Trail camera photos of frail and gaunt lions along with the data gained from the removal of problem lions show a thin and hungry cat population. Eliminating or continuing to reduce the doe harvest while promoting the harvest of younger lions would encourage a healthier deer and lion population and ensure that a few more adult lions were available to instruct cubs through their formative years.