FORUM: Mountain lion policies creating more problems

2012-08-18T06:30:00Z FORUM: Mountain lion policies creating more problemsDean Flage South Dakota State University graduate in wildlife and fisheries biology. He writes from Sturgis Rapid City Journal

Behold, the mystery of the century. Why are these young, malnourished mountain lions coming into human-occupied areas?

It doesn't take a wildlife biologist to explain this one. These are the slowly starving offspring of lion females killed during the lion hunting season.

It has been more than four months since the hunting season closed and the orphans are reaching the end of their lines as unskilled hunters and are resorting to desperation hunting and going after domestic stock and pets and scavenging as necessary. It is also increasing the chances that they could become a threat to humans.

So what have we done? We have created the problem that some tried to rationalize the need for the hunting season. In short, we created the feared condition by establishing the hunting season.

Where there was no problem, there now is. But this problem is twofold. Now there is a problem for people, but there is a bigger problem for the cats. Those that are killed during the season leave kittens to slowly starve to death. These secondary deaths threaten the very existence of the species in this area.

A recent Journal article almost made it sound like lions are targeting collared elk calves. While the calves are a target of convenience for cats, empty collars don't mean the calf is dead. Many of the collars are being shed as the calves struggle through fences that their parents simply jump.

On the other hand, hunters knowingly take lions and elk that are fitted with collars as shown by a picture on the news at the end of the season of a hunter proudly displaying his collared cat with no regard to the effect on the science of the research study.

When a species' population becomes so small in an area, one of the unfortunate results is inbreeding of the remaining species members. This is the problem that hit the Florida panther population several years ago. The cats developed unexplained kinks in the ends of their tails obvious to anyone seeing them. But along with this, the cats developed a form of cancer of the blood and suffered reduced reproductive success.

I asked South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks officials if they ever considered capturing what some people considered excess cats here and shipping them to Florida. I was told no one wanted any cats from South Dakota.

However, that didn't match with what Florida officials told me. So Florida got captured lions from Texas, and it appears the inbreeding problems have resolved themselves with the input of new blood.

Another Florida incident showed just how committed they are to the preservation of their lions. One afternoon a lion wandered into the city limits of Fort Myers along the west coast. Police and game officials put out an immediate broadcast on radio and TV, and in minutes, hundreds of people mobilized to where the cat was and assisting police in detouring traffic, while others formed lines to drive the cat back to its territory.

In short order, the cat was returned to its native territory and local residents returned to their normal lives, knowing they had done their part in preserving a creation of God.

While hunting may sometimes be necessary in control of large-population species, in the case of small-population species, it can actually produce problems that didn't exist before.

Man cannot improve on nature. Nor can he replace God. All God's creatures have a place in the master plan, even if that plan doesn't fit with our self-serving goals.

Copyright 2015 Rapid City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(8) Comments

  1. BobMc
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    BobMc - September 02, 2012 2:56 pm
    Probably a bigger mystery is why South Dakota has a mountain lion hunting season when lions have been shown to help maintain habitat and riparian areas, leading to healthier herds, healthier bird stocks, and healthier fishing. Of course, letting nature take care of her own isn't near as politically correct as trying to sell ever more tags to kill off a decreasing population of wildlife. How will the politicos running the agency survive without those tags?

    That complaints 'sky rocket' anywhere there has been hunting limits set on America's lion can best be explained by the P-word--'politics'. The notion that hunters know more than anyone else, certainly implies that sober biologists in the field using scientific methods are oblivious to reality, while a hunter with a goal of killing something is a better observer.

    After sitting in meetings for a few years listening to hunters state that we should let the biologists manage lions, I had the joy of hearing the outcomes of ten years of scientific work tracking collared lions, taking populations, etc. The conclusion was pretty much that lions don't need management, they maintain their populations at a supportable level. Suddenly, the hunters' mantra changed to " Science is fine, but we have to use common sense." Common sense, of course, is what hunters want to do,

    The people of South Dakota that support GFP's Ponzi scheme of wildlife management for the sake of livestock, and at the cost of biological diversity, condemn their grandchildren to a future barren of forests and streams, and wildlife that we all enjoy.
  2. Steve B
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    Steve B - August 25, 2012 9:15 am
    Hunter 44 wrote: I felt very defeated by CA proposition 113 in 1990 but it must be admitted that the science has been proven and demonstrated to be correct as CA mountain lions cause very little conflict after over 2 decades of no hunting at all.

    The following are excerpts from an article in Outdoor Life magazine:

    "Take a look around. Proposition 117, a voter initiative passed in 1990, ended lions' classification as "game mammals," banning all cougar hunting. (The state had halted the season in 1972.) Since then, complaints about cougars have skyrocketed. While only 10 cougar attacks were reported from 1890 to 1990 in all of North America, that number has been exceeded in just the past 14 years. Since 1890, the state of California has verified a total of 14 attacks on humans by mountain lions; nine of those attacks have taken place since the ban on cougar hunting."
    "Despite these conflicts, in California game managers have to wait for a cougar to threaten a human before a tag can be issued. Still, an average of 100 "problem" cougars are now killed each year in California, which is about twice the number that were killed annually by hunters before cougar hunting ended in 1972."
    "Between 1972 and 2009, more than 2,300 lions — including nine in Riverside County — were killed under the authority of state depredation permits."
    Perhaps a little fact checking is in order, Hunter44?
  3. Hunter44
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    Hunter44 - August 24, 2012 1:36 pm
    As a hunter for over 6 decades I have been observing what is going on in our forests and among fellow hunters. From few deer and elk to abundant deer and elk resulted in depleted food for both. Without wolves or mountain lions a crash in deer and elk populations were inevitable anyway, but game departments wanted more revenue and hunters wanted more deer and elk. Hindsight now reveals that path was not sustainable and was leading to the destruction of the very habitat we were trying to build for deer and elk. On the subject of mountain lions, all have been forewarned by expert scientists that over-killing the adults would lead to problems. Now for all those who choose not to listen to science but relied on hunter hearsay will find it self-destructing hunting in an ocean of nothing but ignorance. Apparently we did not learn from history either about our ancestors eradicating all wolves and mountain lions from the area at one time. I love my hunting but I realize that this has been the good ole days beyond imagination and now the cycle has to repeat itself to regenerate some balance. I love the mountain lions too just as deer and elk, fully respecting their rightful place in our shrinking wildlands. I would like to be at ease to hunt a mountain lion also but to be a part of this emotional destruction of them and defy all science I will postpone it until some sanity can return. I felt very defeated by CA proposition 113 in 1990 but it must be admitted that the science has been proven and demonstrated to be correct as CA mountain lions cause very little conflict after over 2 decades of no hunting at all. I call for my hunting buddies to learn and listen, as this is justification to be pro-active in protection, not destruction, of mountain lions as a hunting resource. It is essential that hunters take this issue and become involved and educated to work with other scientist toward a real solution and not just emotion rhetoric.
  4. Steve B
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    Steve B - August 19, 2012 10:15 am
    Dr. Johnathan Jenks, the head lion researcher from SDSU, was quoted in a July 7, 2010 PBS radio interview as saying the following: "Long term research has allowed us to characterize and model that population as it increased and became saturated in the Black Hills, and then after saturation, to determine what the harvest was doing." When asked by the moderator "When you talk about saturation, what does that mean in terms of defining how the Black Hills is saturated with mountain lions?", his response was "Well, as a wildlife biologist, we kind of view as where there are what we call density-dependent effect, in other words, the population becomes so dense that there are limitations on that population - food becomes limited, space becomes limited for individuals and that population, so their mortality due to natural causes increases, and that's what we were aqble to document. When I say saturation, I define that as when we started seeing starvation among kittens and even subadult individuals in the population."

    So, to make the assertion that all of the problem lions "are the slowly starving offspring of lion females killed during the lion hunting season" is totally ludicrous on several fronts. Not only does the starvation of kittens and subadults due to saturation have no correlation to the hunting season, GF&P's Lion Mortality Log totally contradicts the assertion that problem lion removals consist primarily of kittens. Since the first hunting season in 2005, 50 Independent lions (1.5 years and older) and 37 Dependent (under 1.5 years) have been removed as problem lions. The Mountain Lion Management Plan states "Since young may become independent as early as 10 months old (Thompson 2009) and average dispersal age is 14-15 months (Anderson et al. 1992, Sweanor et al. 2000), yearling survival should not be influenced by the death of their mother.Survival of orphaned young 6-12 months of age has been documented at 71% (Lindzey et al. 1988, Logan and Sweanor 2001, Anderson and Lindzey 2003)."

    GF&P has documented the orphaning of kittens due to females being killed by vehicles, interaction with other lions, research accidents and GF&P removals. So to paint a picture that the hunting season has created a problem that didn't exist is totally disingenuous and is based on an emotion driven agenda that doesn't square with the facts.
  5. patty
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    patty - August 18, 2012 11:01 pm
    Game fish and parks has already stated that the major reason for elk decline is overhunting by humans,not lions,this has been proven.Of course big cats are showing up in populated areas as human encroachment is pushing them out of thier established territories.Many older male lions are being taken as well as females,leaving even more of a chance for there to be young lions left who are starving and inexperienced at hunting.The loss of balance being created here is going to have long and serious ecological impacts.If you move into lion territor,expect to see lions.It is like sitting beside a pool and complaining when you get splashed.If you do not want to encounter lions,stay out of thier territory and stop pushing them into ours,plain and simple.
  6. Jonnnnn
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    Jonnnnn - August 18, 2012 10:19 pm
    For the most part the lions are hanging around towns and housing developments for the same reason that teenage boys hang around the refrigerator - that's where the easy food is. The county commissioners, and to a lesser extent, city commissioners, essentially created deer refugees when they allow developers, developments, road districts, housing associations, etc., to create "no hunting" areas. These become defacto deer refuges. The easy meal is tempting for the over-populated lions which ate themselves out of the core Black Hills. Counties and towns need to allow hunting, even highly regulated archery hunting, in these fringe areas to re-create fear of humans back into the deer, thereby pushing them back into the woods - where the predators will follow.
  7. Paleo1
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    Paleo1 - August 18, 2012 10:33 am
    First of all, the hunters are the ones that know what is going on out there more than anyone else. Second of all, I challenge the supposition that the lions that are coming into populated areas are only orphaned babies. Many large mountain lions have been spotted in the towns. I had a young male lion in my yard which I personally believe had been kicked out of his mother's territory and was looking for new territory for himself, which is perfectly normal behavoir, especially if there are too many cats. Of course we dont know for sure what the story is for each cat. Careful management from our professionals and heeding the information coming from hunters is the best that we can do for the cats and everyone else. Hiding our heads in the sand and pretending that mountain lions running in our neighborhoods pose no risk is not a good solution. The third point is that humans do have just as much right to be here as the animals do. Granted we need to treat them with as much respect and intelligence as we can, based on the information we are able to gather. But humans' rights trump the animals. Period.
  8. Peter_Wiggin
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    Peter_Wiggin - August 18, 2012 8:15 am
    Totally agree with this article...we are the problem not the cats. People want to live in the hills and experience nature until it starts becoming a problem. The campaign against these magnificent creatures has got to stop.

    You know the one kicker about these cats are dangerous...the only human fatality within South Dakota took place within a tourist attraction and controlled environment.
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