Despite just finishing one of the state's worse lion hunting seasons since its inauguration in 2005, the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks Department (SDGFP) still claims that there are at least 240 mountain lions residing in the Black Hills hunting district.
For the past decade, South Dakota's Game Commission has set - what many experts believe to be - excessively high hunting quotas for mountain lions in that region; their stated objective being to reduce the number of mountain lions for ranchers and the public's safety. To justify that goal SDGFP has repeatedly ignored the opinion of outside experts, produced hunting quotas based on faulty calculations, created flawed population growth models, and arbitrarily increased the "official" lion population estimate, when needed, to make the mortality numbers appear more reasonable.
At first, the result of SDGFP's actions was a steady increase in mountain lion mortalities until that peaked with 122 lions killed in 2012. Since then there has been an even faster decline to where the 2015 hunting season ended last Tuesday with only 42 lions killed by hunters.
Despite the lower hunting results, as well as the high ratio of females, kittens and subadults killed, SDGFP refuses to admit that South Dakota's mountain lions are over hunted.
Instead, they explain away the low numbers with excuses of poor hunting conditions and hampering restrictions placed on the hunt by conservationists. To compensate for the dismal hunting results, SDGFP has extended the Black Hills lion hunting season, maintained a year-round lion hunting season throughout the rest of the state, and are now allowing the use of hounds.
All to no avail. You can't kill what isn't there!
The health and viability of the mountain lion population in South Dakota's Black Hills region relies as much on the influx of young dispersing lions from neighboring states as it does on locally produced births. However, since South Dakota's neighbors are shadowing that state's lion hunting policies and killing off much of the "new blood" the region's lion population needs to survive, the annual hunt numbers can be expected to continue to decline and human/lion conflicts are projected to increase.