Grassy plains and fluffy clouds on the Nebraska-Wyoming state border.
 

MOUNTAIN LIONS IN THE STATE OF NEBRASKA

Along with much of the Midwest, mountain lions were a bountied predator and extirpated from Nebraska in the 1890's. One hundred years later, Nebraska confirmed its first mountain lion. The young lion likely dispersed from the small, newly-established breeding population in the neighboring Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. Ideal mountain lion habitat is limited in Nebraska but as of 2014, research has indicated lions are breeding in the Pine Ridge and there may be 22 resident cats. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission initiated a sport hunting season on mountain lions for recreational enjoyment in January 2014. In addition, the Commission authorized unlimited killing of lions in the majority of the state.

Photos of Nebraska landscape showing Pine Ridge, Niobrara River Valley, and surrounding prairie lands.

SUMMARY: Mountain Lions in the State of Nebraska




Mountain Lion Habitat and Population in Nebraska

Historically mountain lions (Puma concolor) were part of the native fauna of Nebraska, more abundant in the western half than in the eastern half of the state. Like many predators before them, mountain lions were extirpated from Nebraska in the 1890s and early 1900s, the last authenticated record occurring in 1903.

According to archived USDA Farmers' Bulletins, some counties in Nebraska continued to offer a $3 bounty for any lion killed ($6 for a wolf and $3 for a coyote) well into the 1920's, despite the species having already been wiped out.

During the following decades local newspapers continued to report sightings of mountain lions in various parts of Nebraska, yet none could be verified by qualified individuals. Although these semi-annual reports were made, the first modern confirmation in Nebraska did not occur until 1991 when a deer hunter fatally shot a female mountain lion outside of Harrison near the Wyoming-Nebraska border.

As of 2013, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) has estimated that 22 individual lions call the Pine Ridge region of northwest Nebraska home.

These numbers are based on scat dog surveys conducted by NGPC biologist Sam Wilson in 2010 and 2012 to determine genetics, gender, and population size. The actual total could be anywhere between 16 and 37 individuals according to Wilson. The 2010 survey identified 13 individual lions (8 male, 5 female), while the 2012 survey detected 15 individuals (6 M, 9 F). Five of the 2012 lions were "recaptures" or "re-detections" from the 2010 survey.

This brings the total individual lions detected to 23. Two females were identified as breeding. Scat surveys were also conducted in the Niobrara River Valley, but it is unclear if the scat collected there is included in the agency's estimate of population size.


Regional Characteristics of the Pine Ridge

The Pine Ridge region of Northwest Nebraska is a rugged escarpment, or a long clifflike ridge, that juts out from the high plains. Located in Nebraska's northwest corner and passing through Sioux, Dawes, and Sheridan counties, the Pine Ride is an arc-shaped formation about 100 miles long. Its width ranges from four to twenty miles across, providing a few hundred square miles of Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa scopulorum) forests.

Because mountain lions prefer rough wooded areas with abundant prey, the Pine Ridge is a favorable ecoregion for mountain lion inhabitance.

Nebraska Pine Ridge - Tall rock formations jutting out of flat grassy landscape.

In relation to the rest of Nebraska, the high rate of mountain lion occurrence in the Pine Ridge is not shocking due to proximity and similarity of habitats to mountain lion populations in neighboring states, particularly South Dakota.

The natural features of the Pine Ridge are similar to the Black Hills where a rebounding mountain lion population is established 50 miles to the North. The topography of the Pine Ridge is characterized by high cliffs, buttes, and pine-covered hills.

Additionally, the Pine Ridge contains Nebraska's largest population of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), rich populations of mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus), some white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and increasing numbers of elk (Cervus canadensis); other species which are typically consumed by mountain lions such as porcupines (Erethizon dorsatum) and wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) are also present.


Regional Characteristics of the Niobrara River Valley

Photo of a large male wild turkey in tall grass.

A small area of suitable habitat for mountain lions also exists in the Niobrara River Valley, the next likely re-colonization range for lions in Nebraska. The Niobrara River flows out of Wyoming southeast into northwestern Nebraska. The river runs adjacent to the Pine Ridge in Sioux County, presenting an attractive corridor for a dispersing lion.

The region is a unique mix of vegetation and wildlife. Flora from northern boreal, rocky mountain, and eastern deciduous forests as well as prairie species from eastern tallgrass, mixed-grass, and western shortgrass prairies blend along the river's ridges and slopes. Many eastern, western, and northern plant and animal species converge at the edge of their distributional range throughout this area.

Inhabitant lion prey species include free-ranging elk, white-tailed deer, and mule deer among smaller prey animals such as turkey.


2012: The Worst Wildland Fire Year on Record

Nebraska experienced the worst wildfire year on record in 2012 with some 500,000 acres being burned — double the total acres of the previous record year. The hardest hit areas in the state were both the Pine Ridge and the Niobrara River Valley, which burned in the late summer and early fall. These areas lost considerable amounts of suitable mountain lion habitat, the Pine Ridge losing as much as 33 percent.

According to Sam Wilson in an interview with the Omaha World-Herald, biologists estimated the Pine Ridge capable of supporting around 27 mountain lions with the Niobrara River Valley capable of supporting about 14. Post-fire, these areas are capable of only supporting an estimated 18 lions in the Pine Ridge and about 10 in the Niobrara Valley, Wilson said.

Although it is known that lion habitat has been diminished, NGPC still feels there is evidence supporting a growing mountain lion population. The population numbers, mentioned in the first section of this page, are from pre-fire surveys however.


Legal Status of Mountain Lions in Nebraska


LB 671 (2014)

"Eliminate provisions relating to hunting and killing of mountain lions"

Introduced by Senator Ernie Chambers on January 8, 2014, this bill would repeal Senator Louden's 2012 legislation that authorized mountain lion hunting in Nebraska.

For the latest text of this bill and current status, please visit the Nebraska Legislature's LB 671 page.


LB 928 (2012)

"a bill for an act relating to mountain lions"

On January 10, 2012 Senator LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth, NE introduced Legislative Bill (LB) 928, "a bill for an act relating to mountain lions." LB 928's statement of intent reads:


"LB 928 would authorize the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to provide permits for hunting mountain lions by allowing Nebraska residents to pay $25 for a chance to win a mountain lion hunting permit in a random drawing. Non-residents would be able to get permits through an auction."


The bill was passed with an emergency clause 49-0 on April 11, 2012, and was approved by the Governor on April 17, 2012. The emergency clause allows for the bill to take effect immediately upon signing by the governor. What this means is the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission now has the ability to issue hunting permits for mountain lions should they find it appropriate to hold a hunting season.

This bill allows, but does not require, the Game and Parks Commission to issue hunting permits for mountain lions in Nebraska. The bill calls for the agency to issue a drawing for residents and a non-resident auction to take place in order to obtain a hunting permit.

This is in similar fashion to the way NGPC conducts a tag lottery for bighorn sheep, the first season taking place in 1998. Residents pay an application fee to win a bighorn tag that is randomly drawn, while an auction is held for an additional tag for non-residents. The agency has also kept bighorn season closed on four occasions — 2006, 2007, 2010, and 2012 — to allow for herd recovery after hard years.


LB 747/836 (2010)

"a bill to permit killing mountain lions and other predatory animals"

On January 6, 2010, Senator LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth, NE introduced Legislative Bill (LB) 747 to classify mountain lions as predators.

Predator means a badger, bobcat, coyote, gray fox, long-tailed weasel, mink, mountain lion, opossum, raccoon, red fox, or skunk.
Amended text of LB 747 into LB 836

The bill also allowed lions to be killed at any time, without prior permission, if believed to be stalking or killing livestock.

In addition, LB 747 codified the common policy that anyone who encounters a lion and fears for their personal safety or the safety of others may kill the lion without facing legal charges.

On April 14th, the bill was incorporated into LB 836 (mandatory deer depredation hunting season). The mountain lion section was amended to no longer list the species as a predator, but still allowed lions to be killed to protect people and livestock.


LB 529 (1995)

Due to an increase in mountain lions in neighboring states and initial sightings in Nebraska, in 1995, Nebraska legislators voted unanimously to pass Legislative Bill 529 and list the mountain lion as a game animal. While this prevented the unrestricted killing of any lion, bear, or moose in Nebraska, by "[classifying] the mountain lion as a game animal in 1995, it signaled to the Commission that hunting of the species should be allowed if the population was large enough to sustain a harvest" (NGPC Mountain Lion Hunting Season Recommendations, May 24, 2013).

LB 529 did not prohibit the killing of mountain lions that pose a threat to public safety or domestic animals.


Mountain Lion Mortality in Nebraska

In 1890, Nebraska reportedly killed its last native mountain lion. The species was extirpated from the state for one hundred years. Eventually, dispersing individuals from remaining populations in western states recolonized the Black Hills of South Dakota, and then expanded into Nebraska's Pine Ridge.

We are in the process of obtaining mortality data from 1990-2000, and October 2012 to present.

MOUNTAIN LION MORTALITIES IN NEBRASKA

2000 - OCTOBER 2, 2012

TOTAL 21
Hunting 0
Vehicular Trauma 6
Depredation Removal 0
Public Safety 15
USDA Wildlife Services 0

This data does not include mountain lions dying of natural causes (disease, infanticide, injury, starvation, or fire), nor do we know how many mountain lions are killed illegally each year.


Sport Hunting Begins - January 2014

Ideal mountain lion habitat is limited in Nebraska but in 2013, research indicated lions were breeding in the Pine Ridge and there may be 22 resident cats.

Apparently this is too many because the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has decided it is time to initiate a sport hunting season on mountain lions to control the budding population.

On January 1, 2014, Nebraska's inaugural lion hunt will begin. Up to four lions may be killed in the Pine Ridge before March 31st, and an unlimited number of lions can be hunted year round in the prairie region—which encompasses approximately 85% of the state.

Though promoted as a once in a lifetime event and offered at the dirt-cheap price of $15, only 395 Nebraskans applied for that state's first ever mountain lion hunt before the September 30th lottery deadline.

Nebraska's inaugural Pine Ridge lion hunt will be restricted to two hunters: a "lucky" lottery winner, and the "Big Bucks" winner of a special permit auctioned off by the Nebraska Big Game Society. In an effort to justify that action, proceeds from the auction will be given to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reportedly for mountain lion conservation, management and research.

Pine Ridge's inaugural season will go from January 1 through February 14th, or when two males or one female lion is killed. The hunt area's second season with an additional 100 lottery winners will commence on February 15th, and end on March 31st, or when two males or one female lion is killed.

The Prairie Unit, which covers about 85 percent of Nebraska, will open its lion hunting season on January 1st. It will run through the end of the year, with no restriction on the number of hunters, and lions killed in this hunt area will not be counted against the quota.



Last Update: February 3, 2014



Thank you to Tom Batter for researching and writing much of this Nebraska page.

No Exit: Nebraska Shuts Another Door East

10/21/13 Guest Commentary by Chris Spatz

Cougar Rewilding Foundation President Chris Spatz discusses Nebraska's recent mountain lion policy changes. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) has adopted an outdated anti-mountain lion stance with virtually no public support. With science and local residents backing the need to protect this tiny budding colony of lions, why is the NGPC pushing so hard to eradicate the species? Nebraska's zero tolerance policy may prevent the lion from reclaiming not only the Prairie, but the entire eastern seaboard.

Return of the American Lion? Taking Action May Pave the Way to the Midwest and East

07/05/12 Article by Mountain Lion Foundation Staff

In June 2012, the possibility of mountain lions returning to the Midwest — and ultimately to other states along the eastern seaboard — was heralded in newspapers across the country. Headline after headline welcomed the return of mountain lions to places where they have not been seen for many decades. How did this come to pass? Is the trend real and sustainable? How was the news received by local policy makers? To address some of these critical questions, the Mountain Lion Foundation reviewed three recent research projects.

Mountain Lion Law in the State of Nebraska

In Nebraska's legal code, Puma concolor is generally referred to as "mountain lion."

Species Status

The species is classified as a game animal game animal, along with antelope, cottontail rabbits, deer, elk, mountain sheep, squirrels, moose, and bears.

Laws pertaining to Nebraska's endangered or threatened species can apply to mountain lions because the law defines "endangered species" as "any species of wildlife or wild plants whose continued existence as a viable component of the wild fauna or flora of the state is determined to be in jeopardy or any species of wildlife or wild plants which meets the criteria of the Endangered Species Act" and "threatened species" as "any species of wild fauna or flora which appears likely to become endangered, either by determination of the commission or by criteria provided by the Endangered Species Act." Nebraska's threatened and endangered species laws can be found in Sections 37-801 to 37-811 of the Nebraska Revised Statutes.

State Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of Nebraska is governed by the Nebraska Revised Statutes - the collection of all laws passed by the state legislature. Since our summary below may not be completely up to date, you should be sure to review the most current law for the State of Nebraska.

You can check the statutes directly at a state-managed website: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/laws/browse-statutes.php - or HERE

These statutes are searchable . Be sure to use the name "mountain lion" to accomplish your searches.

The Legislature

The Nebraska Legislature - also called the Unicameral - is the only unicameral state legislature in the United States. It is also the only nonpartisan legislature, meaning that candidates' political affiliations are not listed on the ballot. The Unicameral consists of 49 members, who are referred to as senators, who serve 4-year terms. Senators are limited to two terms. If you do not know who your state senator is, the Unicameral maintains this website to help you find your senator. If you already know the name of your state senator, you can find their contact information here.

Regular legislative sessions begin each year at 10:00 am on the first Wednesday after the first Monday of January. Regular sessions may not exceed 90 legislative days in odd-numbered years unless four-fifths of senators vote to extend the session. In even-numbered years, regular sessions are limited to 60 legislative days unless four-fifths of senators vote to extend the session. The governor is allowed to call special legislative sessions, but no limit is placed on the duration of special sessions.

State Regulation

Nebraska's state regulations governing mountain lions in the state can be found in the Game and Parks Commission section Game and Parks Commission of the Nebraska Administrative Code. The regulations are set by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is made up of nine members appointed by the governor and approved by the state legislature. Eight members represent a district with the ninth serving as an at large member. Nebraska law(Statute 37-101) requires commissioners to be "well informed and interested in matters under the jurisdiction of the commission." Three commissioners must be "engaged in agricultural pursuits." No more than five commissioners may be from the same political party. Commissioners may only serve two terms. The commission sets the state's wildlife regulations. The commission also appoints the officers, agents, and employees necessary to enforce Nebraska's wildlife and parks laws.

Nebraska Game and Parks

Nebraska Game and Parks is the state's agency in charge of enforcing wildlife laws. The agency is an extension of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's power in that its officers, agents, and employees are appointed by the commission to enforce the state's wildlife and parks laws.

Management Plan

Nebraska does not appear to have a mountain lion management plan.

Hunting Law

Hunting of mountain lions is allowed in the State of Nebraska. The Game and Parks Commission Title 163 and laws governing "recreational" hunting of mountain lions Chapter 37 specify 4 mountain lion management units.

Hound hunting is allowed for game birds, but the Nebraska revised Statutes and hunting regulations are silent with regard to hounding of mountain lions.

Nebraska allows the hunting of mountain lions with rifles 22 caliber or larger and produce at least 900 foot-pounds of bullet energy at 100 yards except .357 magnum rifles or .45 Colt rifles, which the state's regulations single out as legal weapons. Muzzleloading rifles must be 44 caliber or larger, while muzzleloading muskets must fire a single slug and be 62 caliber or larger. Shotguns used to hunt mountain lions must be 20 gauge or larger and fire a single slug. Handguns and muzzleloading handguns must produce at least 400 foot-pounds of bullet energy at 50 yards. No firearm used to hunt mountain lions may be capable of fully automatic fire, and firearms capable of semi-automatic fire may hold no more than 6 cartridges. Bullets used may not have full metal jackets or be incendiary. For hunting with archery equipment, Nebraska allows the use of longbows, recurve bows, compound bows, and crossbows. Crossbows used to hunt mountain lions must have a draw weight of at least 125 pounds, be shoulder-fired, and not be electronically loaded, cocked, or fired.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission sets the state's mountain lion harvest quotas and a female sub-quota. The quota is kept low in the regions with breeding populations, reflecting the small size of the populations. There is no quota for the Prairie Unit, which has no known lion population. It is illegal to kill or attempt to kill spotted kittens or any mountain lion accompanied by a kitten.

Public Safety Law

Nebraska law (Statute 37-559) states, "Any person shall be entitled to defend himself or herself or another person without penalty if, in the presence of such person, a mountain lion stalks, attacks, or shows unprovoked aggression toward such person or another person."

Depredation Law

Nebraska law (Statute 37-559) allows any farmer or rancher to immediately kill any mountain lion that is "stalking, killing, or consuming livestock on the farmer's or rancher's property." The farmer, rancher, or one of his/her agent's must immediately notify the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and arrange to surrender the lion's carcass.

Nebraska law (statute 37-472) also provides a process for the issuance of permits to kill depredating mountain lions. In order to receive a permit, a farmer or rancher must contact the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission when a mountain lion has attacked his/her livestock or poultry. The commission will then investigate in order to determine if a mountain lion has truly caused the damage before issuing a permit, which gives the farmer or rancher up to 30 days to kill the depredating lion. After the lion has been killed, the commission must be notified immediately and arrange to receive the lion's carcass.

Owners of domestic animals do not appear to be required to take certain steps to protect their pets or livestock. There does not appear to be a government-funded compensation program for losses of domestic animals to mountain lions.

Trapping

Mountain lions may not be trapped for fur in Nebraska.

Poaching

Poaching law in the State of Nebraska provides some protection of mountain lions in law, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. Hunting mountain lions without a permit (Statute 37-411) is a class II misdemeanor. A class II misdemeanor (Statute 28-106) is punishable by up to 6 months of imprisonment and a fine of up to $1,000.

Road Mortalities

The Nebraska Department of Roads does not keep records of mountain lions killed on state roads.

Captivity

Nebraska does not appear to have laws or regulations regarding mountain lions kept in captivity.

Research

Mountain lion research is usually conducted in collaboration with Nebraska Game and Parks. Research permits will only be issued to those capable of demonstrating the requisite education, training, or professional experience as determined by the Commission on a case-by-case basis to be necessary to carry-out the scientific research.

Researchers must submit an application containing the number of lions requested to be collected, the proposed method for collection, the general area(s) in which the collections will take place, the purpose of collection, and the proposed method of disposal for specimens. All research activities must be reported to Nebraska Game and Parks before February 1 following the expiration of the permit.

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