Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Photo of landsacape.


Outside the Black Hills, landowners on their own land can kill a lion year-round and it doesn't count toward the hunting quota.

In SDGF&P's 2010 Mountain Lion Management Plan, the State estimated that 251 mountain lions resided in the Black Hills. However, MLF's review found incorrect numbers, flawed mathematical equations, a series of bad scientific practices and assumptions, and a complete disregard of the basic biological and behavioral qualities of the species. As of June 2010, our best estimate of South Dakota's mountain lion population was a total not exceeding 149 mountain lions. Ever increasing hunting quotas makes it doubtfull that even that many lions still remain.

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South Dakota's Mountain Lion Management

The South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks listed the mountain lion as a state threatened species in 1978. More recently, in 2003, mountain lions were removed from the threatened list and classified as a big game animal, but maintained some protection with a year-round closed season.

The state is divided into two management regions: the Black Hills in west-central South Dakota bordering Wyoming, and the Prairie Region that covers the remainder of the state referred to as the Prairie Region. Most of the mountain lions in the state reside in the Black Hills region. Though it is an important movement corridor, biologist have never found any individuals with established home ranges within the prairie region.

Graph of human-caused lion mortality in SD.
Starting in 2005, SD Department of Game, Fish, and Parks allowed mountain lions to be hunted. They started with an "experimental season" the first season, and, with the exception of 2008, have allowed hunting ever since. Between 2005 and 2012, there were a total of 236 mountain lions harvested, 143 females and 93 males. Starting in 2013, it became legal to use hounds to hunt mountain lions on public land within the Black Hills, and legal to use hounds on private land in the Prairie region in 2015. Landowners are allowed to kill mountain lions any time of year outside of the Black Hills, and any cats killed will not count towards quota limits. In fact, mountain lions killed for depredations or perceived human safety threats by South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks or private landowners, as well as road kill, non-target trapping deaths, or mountain lions taken on tribal lands are not currently counted towards harvest objective quotas.

A Small Population With A High Hunting Quota

Mountain lions in South Dakota face some of the highest per capita hunting quotas of any population of mountain lions in the country. In some years, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks set the quota to greater than 40 percent of the already struggling population. Many mountain lion researchers agree that the rate for sustainable mountain lion harvest falls somewhere between 11 and 15 percent. Wildlife managers in South Dakota have access to research conducted in other states, so the logical conclusion here is that SD Department of Game, Fish, and Parks must be setting such high harvest rates with the intention of reducing the state's mountain lion population.

Population Dynamics within South Dakota

In 2010, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks estimated the population in the Black Hills region to be 223 individuals. This population will likely suffer from inbreeding depression without proper connectivity to other populations. If you'd like to help mountain lions in South Dakota, support low harvest quotas and habitat preservation.

Does 2+2=5 in South Dakota?

07/16/10 Amy Rodrigues, MLF Outreach Coordinator

When the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks (SDGF&P) submitted the 2010-2015 Mountain Lion Management Plan, it included errors in math that will result in the unnecessary deaths of 80 to 100 adult lions, and the deaths of many kittens from slow starvation.

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South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

Commonly abbreviated as: SDGFP

Katie Ceroll, Director

Main Office:
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks
20641 SD Highway 1806
Fort Pierre, SD 57532
(605) 223-7660

Doug Backlund
523 E. Capitol-Foss Bldg.
Pierre, SD 57501-3182
(605) 773-4345

Please write to the director and express your concern for lions in South Dakota.

Thank the agency when they take steps to protect our state's cougars. When they fall short of expectations, politely ask for policy reform and more officer training.