Sioux Falls, S.D. — Officials from the Mountain Lion Foundation say South Dakota hunters could wipe out the state's entire population of mountain lions. Lynn Sadler, Mountain Lion Foundation president, says South Dakota's population is estimated at 150 cats and the animals are extinct in 35 states. Sadler says her group researches where lions are killed and how. She says good conservation of the mountain lion population requires a joint effort not individual hunting seasons from state to state.
"The coordination between states is inadequate, the record keeping between states is inadequate. The science on mountain lions is inadequate and as near as we could tell the conservation of mountain lions is not being protected," says Sadler.
The South Dakota mountain lion season allows hunters to kill 25 cats and only five of them can be breeding females. Lynn Sadler says the state should stick with its original management plan that allows people to shoot only the mountain lions that are causing a conflict with humans or livestock.
A male cat requires about 300 square miles for its territory. Some researchers believe that as the population increases young males are pushed out of the Black Hills eastward in search of new territory
Lynn Sadler says the mountain lion is typically its own best population control.
"Mountain lions fight to the death over territory. So the populations cannot explode because one lion or another in a territory is going to die," says Sadler.
Officials from South Dakota's Game, Fish and Parks Department would not talk about the pending lawsuit. Mike Kintigh, regional supervisor in Rapid City, doubts hunters will actually kill the quota of 25 mountain lions. He says the terrain is rugged and mountain lions are an elusive target.
"I don't think our success rate is going to be all that great and that is reflected in the price of the license -- why we kept it as cheap as possible; because we don't think our success rate is going to be all that high," says Kintigh.
The president of the Mountain Lion Foundation says counting on failure is no way to manage the cat's population. Dawn Baumgartner is planning a 12-day hunting trip in the Black Hills. She and her husband were successful in this year's big game lottery. They drew bull elk tags for the first time and paid the $15 each to get a mountain lion tag.
"This is an opportunity of a lifetime -- to combine a mountain lion hunt with an elk hunt. We've been waiting 11 years for a bull elk tag and the opportunity was there and we saw no reason not to take the chance," says Baumgartner.
As a way to conserve fuel and use more back roads Baumgartner and her husband will hunt from mountain bikes. She hopes this experience might get her closer to a lion but her focus is on bagging an elk.
A hearing will be held Thursday for a temporary restraining order. The state judge says he'll issue his decision quickly.