Wyoming's Game and Fish Commission has proven itself to be a very astute political body. And this week's Solomon-like decision reeks from all the spin doctor rhetoric put forth to disguise the fact that once again too many lions will be killed to placate a small special interest group.
Earlier this year, a small group of private landowners from Crook County, the small sliver of Black Hills residing within Wyoming's borders complained that they were not making enough money off the lion-hunting trade. It seems that hunters on public lands were reaching (and exceeding) the state's exorbitant mortality quota for the region and closing down the hunting season long before the 212 day hunting time-limit had expired.
Claiming that it was being responsive to public concern, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) decided to conduct its 3-year review of lion-hunting quotas a year earlier than scheduled, and then proposed to solve the problem by creating a new Hunt Area with unlimited lion mortality, just so those same landowners could get their "fair" share of the potential financial bounty (a single guided lion hunt can bring in over $5,000).
But the proposed plan's announcement of unlimited lion hunting created public outrage. Mountain lions from that section of Wyoming, coupled with their brethren in South Dakota, have proven to be the primary source for the resettlement of the Midwest by the species. And experts were pointing out that current hunting policies in the Black Hills were hindering that resettlement and proposed mortality increases -- such as Wyoming's -- could even lead to the extirpation of Puma concolor
in the source region.
With complaints rolling in from all over the country, what could the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission do? It wanted to go along with the Department's proposal; after all the parties supporting the changes are their constituents and friends. But it also didn't wish to reveal it isn't using the best scientific data available to make critical wildlife management decisions.
So, making logical sounding statements such as "What we've done with that quota should meet the needs of the people there but also show that we are responsibly managing our resources,
" the Commission decided instead to provide the new Hunt Area (32) with an initial mortality quota of "only" 25 lions. Very Responsible -- HA!
Let's look at the facts:
Prior to the Commission's decision, the Northeast corner of Wyoming had been divided into two Hunt Areas (1 & 30) with a total annual mortality quota of 40 lions. This relatively high number was regularly reached and usually exceeded. Last year in fact the quota was reached within the first 90 days of the season.
The new Hunt Area (32) does not increase the total amount of land currently listed under Hunt Areas 1 and 30. It merely divides Hunt Area 30 in two (30 & now 32).
The new mortality quota for the region -- 61 lions -- represents over a 50 percent increase in the already excessive quota, and could raise the mortality percentage to 49 percent. A 1991 study by Dr. Frederick Lindzey (long before he became a Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner) demonstrated that even mortality levels as low as 27 percent were unrecoverable by local lion populations if that level of mortality persisted year after year as they have in this case.
WGFD's large carnivore biologist Dan Thompson possibly summed up the Commission's decision best when he said that he "doesn't know if a quota of 25 will last the season or fill before March 31, but it will cut the population."