CHADRON, Neb. — Nebraska's first regulated mountain lion hunting season is on hold.
State Game and Parks commissioners voted unanimously Friday — during a meeting in the heart of Nebraska's cougar country — to stall proposed wildlife regulations allowing mountain lion hunting.
Commissioner Rex Fisher of Gretna called for the delay to give Game and Parks wildlife staffers time to incorporate suggestions heard at the meeting. More than 20 people, most of them area residents, testified in support of a hunting season.
The issue will be addressed again at the commission's July 26 meeting in Lincoln.
More than two dozen opponents sent letters and emails decrying the plan.
Nature photographer Tom Mangelsen, a native Nebraskan who grew up in Omaha, wrote that he was dismayed at the proposal. He said there is no sound scientific justification for a mountain lion hunting season, adding that it simply would be a recreational opportunity for a few hunters.
Under the plan, 100 permits would be issued to Nebraska residents by lottery. One permit would be auctioned to a resident or nonresident. Lottery and auction proceeds would be used for mountain lion management and research.
An estimated 15 to 22 mountain lions live in the rugged Pine Ridge region, where hunting would be permitted, so the area could support the taking of one to three cougars, according to commission studies.
Mangelsen was skeptical. He wrote that the hunting quota reflects a gamble by the commission that Nebraska's recovering cougar population has the numbers to withstand hunting.
“It is illogical that you would promote a hunt in this area of public land that should ostensibly be 'home' to the cougars,'' he wrote.
Proposed regulations would allow permit holders to hunt mountain lions with firearms and archery equipment in parts of Box Butte, Dawes, Sheridan and Sioux Counties that are north of the Niobrara River and west of Nebraska Highway 27.
Commissioner Kent Forney of Lincoln noted that many opponents raised questions about orphaning or killing cougar kittens.
“I don't think we want to shoot kittens or females,'' he said.
Supporters of a season dominated the public hearing.
“The time is now,'' said Stacy Swinney, who lives southwest of Chadron. “This is a predator with no natural enemies.''
Roy Drickey of Spencer, Neb., asked for a statewide season. He said hunting mountain lions in Pine Ridge would push the population down the Niobrara River into the north-central and northeast regions of the state.
“If somebody starts shooting at you, you're going to move,'' Drickey said.
The new season would run Jan. 1-Feb. 9 and Feb. 15-March 31. The three-cougar limit has a caveat that only one female can be killed. The season would end immediately once a female is killed, even if the limit hasn't been reached. Hunters are to check daily to see whether the season is still open.
Mountain lions are native to Nebraska but vanished in the 1890s. The first confirmed sighting of a cougar in Nebraska in modern times was in 1991 in the Pine Ridge. The first cougar kittens were documented in the Pine Ridge in 2007, indicating a resident population.
The Legislature approved a bill last year allowing for a mountain lion hunting season at the discretion of Game and Parks officials.
Nebraska law already allows people to kill mountain lions if they threaten people or attack livestock.
The commission's Big Game Committee of Forney, Mark Spurgin of Paxton and Mark Pinkerton of Wilber will work with the agency's wildlife biologists to prepare a new proposal for consideration this summer.
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