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SD GF&P holds more mountain lion meetings

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Liberty Belle

Well-known member
Feb 10, 2005
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northwestern South Dakota
GF&P lion meetings head for smaller towns
By Kevin Woster, Journal Staff Writer

The state Game, Fish & Parks Department will take its road show on mountain-lion management to Martin on Friday for the first in a series of public meetings in five West River prairie towns.

Martin, Bison, Faith, Buffalo and Wall will be next in the statewide series of more than 20 public meetings on a proposed management plan for mountain lions. The series began with communities in the Black Hills and moved to eastern and central South Dakota.
So far, the lion-hunting season proposal for the Black Hills seems to be wining general support, even if people differ on specifics of the hunt, GF&P regional supervisor Mike Kintigh of Rapid City said.

"We realize we're not going to make everyone happy, no matter what we do," Kintigh said. "But I guess I was pleased to see that in general the majority of people were supportive of what we were trying to do."

That does not mean that everyone has complete faith in the mountain lion population estimates by GF&P or their management proposal and plan for a hunting season. Ted Hustead, an owner of Wall Drug, said lions and GF&P management issues have become an increasingly popular subject of conversation around town, often with a sense of skepticism.

"I think there might be some trust issues with the Department of Game, Fish & Parks on mountain lions," Hustead said. "I think the rural people are probably a little bit more concerned about it."

The first four lion meetings were in Hot Springs, Rapid City, Spearfish and Custer. They averaged about 100 people per meeting. Attendance decreased during a swing through eastern and central South Dakota. In Sioux Falls, about 40 people showed up.

"The turnout over there was not as strong as they might have anticipated," Kintigh said. "We expected it would be less over there, of course. They aren't dealing with lions there as often as we are."

Some people at the meetings have opposed any hunting season on lions at all. Some preferred the current policy, in which GF&P officers hunt and kill lions that have killed pets or livestock or frequented residential areas. In a couple of instances, people suggested that lions should be neutered and released rather than killed.

And even those who support a lion season sometimes differed on how it should be handled. Under a draft management proposal, GF&P would set a hunting season to begin Oct. 1 and run through Dec. 31, unless a quota of 20 lions was reached sooner.

The season would not allow hunters to shoot kittens or lions with kittens at their sides. It also would ban the use of traps or hounds. Some trappers and hound owners have complained about those restrictions.

"There was a lot of interest in the hounds. But it was kind of limited to the houndsmen," Kintigh said. "They came to every meeting out here and wanted to make sure they were heard."

Kintigh said GF&P officials wanted to avoid controversy over the use of hounds, which some people believe is cruel. But if hunters were unable to fill the lion quota without the use of hounds, which track and tree lions for hunters, GF&P might reconsider, he said.

Clarence Allen of Martin said Wednesday that he hadn't followed the specifics of the mountain lion plan. He guessed that most people in Martin would support a lion season in the Black Hills. But Allen said dogs should be allowed.

"I think they could locate them better that way," he said. "I think the dogs would be good."

Harding County rancher Betty Olson agreed. She said there were too many lions in the Buffalo area and doubted that the proposed hunting season would be effective enough.

"A hunting season is a nice idea, but I doubt that it will do very much to thin out the cougar population," she said.

Hustead said there have been mountain lion sightings near Wall, including one along the bike path. GF&P should find a common-sense management plan to accommodate the lion population while protecting the public, he said.

"I'd hate to say we don't have to worry about it and then have someone lose a child," he said.

Lion meetings

Here are the next West River lion meetings. Each meeting is from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.:

Friday, April 29, Bennett County Library in Martin; Monday, May 2, Grand Electric Building in Bison; Tuesday, May 3, St. Joseph's Parish Hall in Faith; Wednesday, May 4, Harding County Courthouse in Buffalo; Friday, May 6, Community Center in Wall.
This is the column I wrote for one of the local papers after attending the Spearfish lion season meeting:

GF&P had a meeting concerning the proposed season on mountain lions in Spearfish Thursday night. You hear stories about the tree-huggers and environmental whackos that infest states like California and New York, but when they turn up in our midst it's a real eye opener. A couple of them were handing out "Save the Mountain Lion" flyers outside the pavilion at the Spearfish Park where the meeting was being held. The crowd attending consisted of "save the kitty" folks, hunters, and landowners living in the midst of prime lion habitat.
Most of the lion lovers were simply mild-mannered, misguided, and, apparently, not overly bright animal lovers, but the main spokesman for their side was a raging, and I do mean raging, hypertensive lunatic who spent the evening haranguing anyone daring to suggest that some mountain lions needed to be killed to thin what has become a dangerous population of very efficient predators.
He accused the GF&P of having a "killing mentality" and said that if people were losing livestock and pets to the big cats, and many testified that they were, the GF&P should just pay them for the kills and shut them up. He didn't say what kind of compensation they should give someone losing a family member to a cougar. He also told those assembled that they had invaded the cat's habitat and they had to learn to live with the large predators.
An older gentleman stood up and begged to differ with that assessment. This guy has lived all his life within 15 miles of Spearfish, never saw a cougar until two years ago, and claimed to be older than any mountain lion in the Black Hills. "Looks like MY habitat is the one being invaded!" he told the forum.
Another lady, after cautioning the men of the crowd not to get upset, thought that the over-population problem could solved by having GF&P catch and neuter the big cats before releasing them back into the wild. It lightened the tense atmosphere when one of the hunters in the crowd asked what the other guys would prefer, being shot or being neutered? That aside, he explained that neutering a cougar would not affect its appetite.
GF&P plans to hold one of these meetings in Buffalo the first part of May. Attend if you get a chance. You just never know who might show up to tell us how we need to do things out here in the boonies.
When mountain lions started to invade large population areas from surrounding mountains, the USFW cautioned people that, since the cougars are protected by law, they were going to have to learn how to live with the big cats.
USFW advised folks walking near areas that mountain lions were known to frequent, to protect themselves by making themselves look bigger when they encounter a lion. You should, without bending down or stooping over, pick up a stick or rock to throw, yell and wave your arms and never, under any circumstances, run or turn your back on the extremely efficient predator. They also suggest that you carry pepper spray and put small bells on your clothes to avoid surprising the big cats.
It all sounded good until the local trapper told those assembled how they can tell if scat found along a trail belongs to a cougar or not.
Mountain lion manure smells like pepper and contains small bells.

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