Commission adopts plan to manage S.D. mountain lions

Capitol News Bureau

CHAMBERLAIN, S.D. (KELO) — The latest management plan for mountain lions in South Dakota received official support Friday from the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission.

“It seems like we’re in a good place with the mountain lions in the Black Hills and South Dakota. So far so good,” commissioner Scott Phillips of New Underwood said. 

Chairman Gary Jensen of Rapid City said South Dakota’s Wildlife Division is nationally recognized in mountain lion research.

“It’s very impressive, the work our staff does on mountain lions,” Jensen said. “We are truly national leaders on this.” 

Wildlife program administrator Chad Switzer credited Andy Lindbloom and other staff.

“We have a lot yet to learn about mountain lions and how to manage them on the northern Great Plains,” Switzer said. “I’ll be the first to admit we don’t know everything about lions.”

The commission adopted some regulation changes Thursday for the next two seasons, including extending them one month deeper into the spring. They now will start December 26 and run through April 30.

The new version of the management plan approved Friday reflects some changes in the division’s approach to mountain lions, Switzer said.

The revision process began 16 to 18 months ago, according to Switzer. About 4,000 South Dakota residents received random surveys and about 40 percent responded. The department also annually surveys lion hunters.

There also was a public meeting in Rapid City that about two dozen people attended, with some presenting comments.

Switzer said the draft plan highlighted habitat in the Black Hills and on the prairie, the process for setting seasons, historical harvest data, various population information, lion research including kitten survival and litter size, depredation, interstate coordination, public involvement and outreach, and challenges and opportunities.

He noted that it reflected hunting regulations, including prairie hunts and the potential of opening hunting seasons to non-residents, as well as opposing viewpoints.

“There’s a broad spectrum of public opinion regarding mountain lions in South Dakota,” Switzer said.

According to the state Game, Fish and Parks Department’s web page regarding lions, “The first hunting season was established in 2005 as an ‘experimental season’ and a season continues to be implemented as a management tool to manage mountain lion populations at a desired level.”

The department published a biennial report on lions in September. Its summary of harvests reflects a peak in the 2011-2013 period, when hunters reported kills totaling 73, 61 and 53 lions in the Black Hills. In the two most recent seasons, Black Hills hunters reported kills of 31 and 21.

Meanwhile the prairie kills have gradually risen, hitting highs of 10 and 11 during the two most recent seasons. The prairie season outside the Black Hills is open year-round and dogs can now be used.

The plan adopted Friday is designed to stand for 10 years, through November 2029, according to Switzer. It sets a population estimate at 200 to 300 lions. The previous plan covered 2010 to 2015.

Switzer said there’s currently good balance between populations of lions, deer and elk in the Black Hills.

Game, Fish and Parks staff for years tracked mountain lions in the Black Hills, including use of radio collars in conjunction with South Dakota State University at Brookings.

Switzer said staff members currently are working with the University of Montana on a model for monitoring populations of mountain lions.

“I’ll be the first to admit no model’s right,” he said.

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