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.
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 South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks' 2017 Mountain Lion Status Report, the State estimated that, prior to the 2016/17 season, 300 mountain lions resided in the Black Hills. Of these, approximately 230 were adults or sub-adults. 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.