Nebraska ends mountain lion hunt in 1 area as quota reached; Ernie Chambers renews push for a ban

January 29, 2019

LINCOLN — The state’s first mountain lion hunt in five years has been closed in one area of the state after a quota of four lions was reached there.

But hunting continues in a second area of northwest Nebraska in an effort to control a growing population that has drawn concerns about livestock losses and threats to humans.

The hunt has sparked controversy, and has inspired another effort this year by State Sen. Ernie Chambers to outlaw it.

On Friday, two male mountain lions were shot in the southern unit of the two hunting units in Nebraska’s Pine Ridge area. That fulfilled a quota of taking four mountain lions total south of U.S. Highway 20 in Sheridan, Sioux, Dawes and Box Butte Counties. Three males and one female were harvested in that unit.

Hunters who obtained permits were immediately informed via emails on Friday that the quota had been reached and that hunting in that area had closed, said Sam Wilson of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. That information was also posted on the agency’s website and on a toll-free telephone hotline, and press releases were issued, he said.

“We want to make sure people are aware,” Wilson said.

No mountain lions have yet been shot north of U.S. 20, and Wilson said that hunting will continue there until either four mountain lions are shot, or two female mountain lions are harvested. If the quota has not been reached by the end of February, a second, auxiliary season will be held from March 15 to March 31.

During an auxiliary hunt, state law allows dogs to be used to track and tree the mountain lions, a method that detractors say is inhumane and hunters and wildlife managers say is much more effective.

A mountain lion hunt was authorized in 2019 by the Game and Parks Commission after biologists estimated that the population had grown to 59 lions in the Pine Ridge area, nearly double the 33 cats estimated in 2015. The commission set a quota of killing no more than eight mountain lions total, or no more than two females in each unit.

The state has held just one regulated hunting season of the big cats previously. In 2014, three males and two females were killed. No hunts were held from 2015 through ’18 because a high number of mountain lions died in collisions with vehicles or from other, nonhunting causes. This year, there were seven known mountain lion deaths from nonhunting causes.

Chambers, a vocal opponent of the hunt, has again introduced a bill in the Legislature to ban hunting of the big cats. A public hearing date has not been set for his Legislative Bill 46.

In 2014, Chambers won passage of a mountain lion hunting ban, but the bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Dave Heineman.

Since mountain lions were first confirmed in the state in 1991, encounters have occurred with some regularly.

State law allows the killing of mountain lions that are threatening humans or livestock. A lion that took up residence in Gordon, Nebraska, was shot and killed in November, and lions found to be eating livestock were killed near Hay Springs in August and near Chadron in July.

Besides the Pine Ridge, there are breeding populations in western Nebraska’s Wildcat Hills and in the Niobrara River Valley in the north-central part of the state. But young males are known to roam widely to establish new territories, including in eastern Nebraska.

In 2017, a mountain lion was spotted in a back yard in Omaha near 123rd and Farnam Streets. In 2015, a male was shot by police at an office near 120th and Q Streets. And one lion was found dead on Interstate 80 in Sarpy County in 2005.

The most famous lion encounter in Omaha was in 2003, when the head of the Henry Doorly Zoo was called in to tranquilize and capture a 102-pound male mountain lion that had been cornered along the Big Papio Creek in the Old Mill area. That lion, nicknamed “Omaha,” was sent to the zoo, where it died two years ago.

While attacks on humans are rare, two people were killed in attacks by mountain lions last year in the U.S. One was a bicyclist in Washington state and another a hiker in Oregon.

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