State Game, Fish & Parks Commission Chairman Jeff Olson is accustomed to getting advice from citizens in Rapid City and Pierre and Belle Fourche.
Hearing from people in Belgium, the United Kingdom and South Africa is something new, however.
The business of managing mountain lions and online options bring comments from near and far.
Olson and other members of the GF&P Commission will consider many conflicting voices as they meet today in Deadwood to set the 2013 state mountain lion season — a hunt that could actually start during the last few days of 2012.
As proposed by the commission in August, the season would allow a kill limit of 100 lions, a level well above the 70-cat maximum set by the commission for the 2012 lion season held earlier this year.
Olson is hearing plenty about that.
"The last four days have been overwhelming," he said Tuesday evening, as he monitored an email infusion that averaged one per minute during some stretches. "I've probably read close to 200 comments in the last week or so, mostly emails."
There was a heavy surge of emails from lion advocates across the nation in coordinated opposition to the proposed hike in the lion kill quota. Connections with lion-advocacy groups also reached beyond the United States to other lands.
Most of the comments from beyond South Dakota's borders were against the hike in the kill quota. Some include rants about South Dakota's mountain lion "slaughter." Others threaten tourism boycotts.
In total, the flood of outside messages could give opponents of the season proposal a numerical edge in the comment count. But more local comments, tending to run heavily in favor of killing more lions, have been coming to the commission for months.
A flurry came during a special Rapid City meeting on the season proposal in August. Like the comments at a meeting earlier in the year, they were heavily weighted toward killing more lions, in part to help protect deer and elk herds in the Black Hills that have declined in number the past few years.
Those same sentiments are mixed in throughout the public comments published on the GF&P website Wednesday.
"The mountain lions are having a major impact on the game populations in the Black Hills, and their recovery, especially the elk, will be impossible unless the growing lion population is reduced," Chamberlain resident Alan Lien wrote.
In her comment to GF&P, Jennifer Wild of Spearfish agreed that lions need to be reduced. But her focus was different than diminished big-game herds. Noting that lions have been seen within a half block of her home, Wild said: "It's time to bring the number of cats back down before a human life is lost."
There is little chance of that occurring, according to John Laundre of Oswego, N.Y., a college biology instructor who serves as volunteer biologist for the Cougar Rewilding Foundation. Acknowledging that cougar attacks on humans do occur, Laundre insists that they are rare.
"The chances of being attacked and killed by a mountain lion are so low compared to all the other risks we face daily," he said.
Laundre takes issue with the dramatic hikes in recent years in the lion-kill quotas set by the GF&P Commission. The first lion season in 2005 had a maximum kill of 25. A a tighter limit on the number of adult female lions kept the total kill to 13.
The 2012 season earlier this year allowed up to 70 lions to be killed.The actual kill for the season was 73 lions, due to a flurry of cats being turned in the final two days. In addition, three more lions have been killed by licensed landowners hunting in an extended season outside of the Black Hills.
That's an overshooting to begin with, Laundre said. To take it from 70 to 100, with an alternative sub quota of 70 female lions, is far beyond what the Black Hills lion population can sustain, he said.
Many hunters believe that even GF&P's recently revised estimate of the Black Hills lion population, from 200 to 300, is still too low. Laundre contends that the actual lion population is likely closer to 150. He said there is more politics than science in the commission's season proposal, shaped to respond to complaints from hunters about too many lions killing too many elk and deer.
"Hunters are greedy," Laundre said. "They want it all for themselves. And what that leads to is a single-species management where they push game agencies to manage for game they want to hunt."
Olson argues that the commission is trying to balance the demands of hunters with the best interests of big-game herds and the long-term viability of the mountain lion as a top-of-the-line predator in the Black Hills.
Setting the kill quota is a complicated question with answers unlikely to please everyone, he said. And it's possible that the commission will discuss a quota even higher than 100. Some hunters are pushing for that.
"As chairman, I can't make motions or seconds," Olson said. "But I'm kind of guessing somebody might try to bump it up (from 100). I think it might be a point of discussion. We'll just have to see."
Other potentially controversial points of discussion in the proposal are the limited use of lion hounds in Custer State Park and extending year-round lion-hunting options available to landowners outside the Black Hills Fire Protection District to non-landowners, as well.
The main state lion season and most of the lions are within the fire district.