LITTLE LIONS, BIG MISTAKES  Mountain lion kittens and females slated to die in the tragically disordered South Dakota Black Hills. Photo of mountain lion kitten hanging on to tree.



South Dakota's Game, Fish & Parks Commission approved a hunting season for the 2012-2013 that would kill between 70 and 100 lions in the Black Hills alone. Despite MLF's best efforts to prevent the killing with sound science and support from the majority of South Dakotans, and the devastating slaughter kicked off the day after Christmas. Because lion hunting is unlimited in the rest of the state (outside the Black Hills region), a total of 110 to 140 mountain lions are likely to be killed in 2013, not counting orphaned kittens. To make matters worse, the population may already be lower than that.


Agency refuses to use public or peer-reviewed science to sustain mountain lion (also known as cougar, puma, panther) population.

South Dakota's Game, Fish & Parks Commission has proposed a mountain lion hunting season for the winter of 2012-2013 (2013 Season and Quota) that will kill between 70 and 100 lions in the Black Hills alone.

The entire South Dakota lion population may already be lower than that.

In the remainder of the state, where habitat is unfavorable to lions, lion hunting is unlimited.

The proposed slaughter of 70 to 100 mountain lions will be in addition to the more than 40 lions that are killed annually in the state by ranchers, on roads and highways, and to protect public safety. This means that a total of 110 to 140 mountain lions are likely to be killed in the coming year.

The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks wildlife staff has issued a new "estimate" of the number of mountain lions living in the Black Hills region, raising the population to 300 on paper. This is 100 more lions than the agency's own January 2012 estimate of a lion population (excluding kittens) of between 200 (mark-recapture method) and 211 (survival and harvest model), despite two years of lion mortality rates of close to 100 lions a year a year.

Their ruthless guess is based on the misleading "evidence" that South Dakota's ability to kill more lions each year is an indication that there must be more lions to kill.

Click here to read our comprehensive news story on the proposed 2013 South Dakota hunt.

Our estimate is now 300. With the increased lion harvest this year and the increased number of collars out there, we were able to really get a good estimate of the population. When we put that all together, it did show an estimate higher than we projected. ...endquote

John Kanta
Regional Game Manager
SDGFP Rapid City

Yet when asked how many radio-collared lions they have, agency staff at the same Commission hearing stumbled over their words, appeared unsure, and eventually gave a number in the low 40's: no more than what they've claimed in recent years. Moreover, the number of collared lions is not a reliable predictor of population.

The new hunting quota for South Dakota's Black Hills — 100 lions total or 70 females — represents between 33 to 50 percent of SDGFP's inflated estimate on how many lions exist in that region.

The consensus among many lion researchers is that in order to sustain healthy mountain lion populations, no one should kill more than 14% of any lion population annually, including the results of all human-caused mortality such as road kill, depredation, poaching and public safety.

Circular Logic

South Dakota has raised the allowed mountain lion quota each and every season since the initial hunt in 2005. As a result, South Dakota hunters have intentionally killed more and more lions every year. Click here to see Mountain Lion Foundation's summary page for South Dakota.

Since the state bases its population estimate primarily on the number of lions they've been able to kill the season before, their population estimate will inevitably rise until the sharp decline that indicates that lions have been essentially eradicated in a population. By that time the tiny colony will be is well past the point of recovery.

In other words, South Dakota raises the population estimate every year in order to justify the number of lions they hope to kill, and sets the stage for yet another increase in both guesstimate and kills the following year.

Mistaken Math

The Mountain Lion Foundation has repeatedly questioned South Dakota's circular logic and mistaken math. It has never made sense: the numbers just don't add up, and the assumptions fly in the face of all peer-reviewed wildlife science.

Ironically, South Dakota's current 2010-2015 Mountain Lion Management Plan includes flawed calculations from previous radio-collar studies. In the plan they were unable to prove the existence of their stated population of 250 lions (corrected math showed their data only indicated between 112 and 142 lions).

Each year South Dakota hunting enthusiasts have tweaked the number of lions to justify their plan. Why? The state's actions are clearly designed to appeal to trophy hunters and local ranchers. Click here to read our feature article on South Dakota's errors in estimation: Does 2 + 2 = 5 in South Dakota?

Failure to Provide Public Information

The data South Dakota uses to make these decisions has never been made available to the public.

In 2010 and 2011 the Mountain Lion Foundation submitted requests to SDGFP asking for the original research papers and data used to create South Dakota's 2010 Mountain Lion Management Plan. The agency responded saying that they were denying the requests for two reasons: "(1) the Department does not hold the research data requested, and (2) the distribution of raw data used in research is not open to inspection and copying under SDCL 1-27-1.5(3)"

Unsustainable Slaughter

A 1992 study by Dr. Frederick Lindzey (now a Wyoming Game and Fish Commissioner) concluded that a region's lion population could recover from hunting-related mortalities if migration of new lions from outside the area occurred, and if mortality levels were kept low. However, Lindzey's study also demonstrated that lion populations could not recover (even with migration) if subjected to mortality levels of 27 percent, when that level of mortality persisted year after year, as it has in of South Dakota.

In South Dakota, not only has that level been reached, but over the past few years increased to unprecedented heights.

The new hunting quota for South Dakota's Black Hills — 100 lions total or 70 females — represents between 33 to 50 percent of SDGFP's inflated estimate on how many lions exist in that region, and the possibility of new lions migrating to the area has effectively been eliminated by the new hunting policies adopted by Wyoming. Given the fact that the Black Hills quota does not consider the lions that will be killed in unlimited hunting elsewhere in the state or the many other causes of human-caused lion deaths the real percentage of the population that will be killed is far higher.

The consensus among many lion researchers is that in order to sustain healthy mountain lion populations, no one should kill more than 14% of any lion population annually, including the results of all human-caused mortality such as road kill, depredation, poaching and public safety.

Unlike in other western states, South Dakota's lion population doesn't encompass the entire state. It is closely confined within a tiny geographic island of habitat in the southwest corner of the state. As a result, South Dakota's lion management policies have very little cushion for error. Yet SDGFP and its commission continue to make lion management decisions which fly in the face of any reputable plan.

  • They derive a population estimate based on "undisclosed" and questionable studies.
  • They authorize hunting mortality levels far exceeding what science has proven to be sustainable.
  • They allow a level of female mortality which is almost double that of most states, and do not consider the fact that killing off females reduces the potential for new lions to be born.
  • They refuse to account for the fact that replacement lions which might mitigate those killed for recreational purposes probably can't migrate into South Dakota now that Wyoming has also radically increased its lion hunting quota.
  • They do not include the incidental mortalities which also occur (road kills, depredation, fire, etc.) in their calculations.
  • They turn a blind eye to the fact that if 14 percent of their 2012 hunting harvest season were kittens as young as 4 months old, maybe that indicates that there are actually fewer (not more) lions than previously estimated.
All of the available scientific evidence leads to the conclusion that South Dakota's hunting quotas are unsustainable and unwarranted. Should this level of hunting continue, South Dakota's small lion population will once more cease to exist.

New Ways to Kill

SDGFP is also recommending that hunters be allowed to hunt with hounds in Custer State Park. It would be the first authorized use of hounds for lion hunting anywhere in the state since dogs were used to help eradicate the species from the plains states during the bounty period.

According to the Rapid City Journal, SDGFP's John Kanta said that the expanses of public land in the 71,000-acre park would reduce the possibility of problems with hounds trespassing on private land and wouldn't cause a great disturbance of park wildlife.

Map of the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming showing Custer State Park.

State by State Slaughter

States bordering on South Dakota's Black Hills have also raised their hunting limits for mountain lions in the small mountain range, with no regard for effects on mountain lions across the borders.

In the portion of the Black Hills that extends into Wyoming, higher quotas and new hunting areas may effectively eradicate lions in their portion of the Black Hills in order to enrich a few greedy ranchers. The new hunting quota for the Wyoming Black Hills region — 61 lions — represents a more than 50 percent increase in the already excessive quota, and could raise the mortality to 50 percent of the lion population there. None of the three states surrounding the Black Hills has considered the impact of their decision-making across state lines. Click here to read our action alert about Wyoming's latest plans.

Nebraska's Pine Ridge, while not a part of the Black Hills, is accessible to Black Hills lions across the Badlands. Nebraska has recently given mountain lions "predator" status, which makes them very easy to kill, and has given their commission the ability to issue permits for hunting. The hunt in Nebraska, the third of three states encompassing the Black Hills, may begin any day.

Effects on the Potential for Mountain Lions to Move East

Even though the entire Black Hills only covers a small area of land approximately 5,000 square miles in size, it has been apparent for some time now that the region's lion population is a primary source for the recolonization of the species throughout the entire Midwest.

Unfortunately, actions currently underway by the governing state game agencies (South Dakota, Wyoming and Nebraska) have reduced this natural process to a mere trickle of individual animals. Click here to read our feature, Eastward Ho, about mountain lions dispersing to the midwest and east.


All American citizens who believe that South Dakota's lion population is being exploited and threatened with extirpation can voice their opinion by emailing comments to Jeffrey Vonk at South Dakotans can protest by attending one of the scheduled public hearings on this issue, and sending in written comments to the Commission via their formal process.

The proposed regulation and quota changes are available for review on the SDGFP website.

Send in your Written Comments

Click here to read MLF's Comment Letter to the SDGFP Commission.

Comments written and mailed by South Dakota residents can really make a difference. Written comments on the proposals should be submitted by October 1st, 2012. If you reside or own property in South Dakota, please write your comments and mail them via postal mail to:

GFP Commission
523 East Capitol Ave.
Pierre, SD 57501

Or email them to:

All correspondence must include the sender's name and address to be included in the public record.

Please also send a copy of your comments to the Mountain Lion Foundation.

Mountain Lion Foundation P.O. Box 1896 Sacramento, CA 95812

The Commission will finalize the mountain lion season and quota at their meeting on October 4th and 5th. Please be sure all comments, whether mailed or emailed, are received by noon on October 3, 2012.

Take Action by Attending a Commission Meeting

Equally important is attending one of the public meetings held specifically to hear public comments on these proposals. Please try to attend.

The public meetings will take place at:

  • August 7 - 6 to 9 p.m. - Outdoor Campus West - 4130 Adventure Trail Rapid City, SD 57702
  • October 4 - TBD - AmericInn Hotel & Suites - 360 Main Street Deadwood, SD 57732
  • October 5 - TBD - AmericInn Hotel & Suites - 360 Main Street Deadwood, SD 57732

Tell Your Friends.

Even if you live outside South Dakota, you can make a difference. America's lions belong to the wild, and to us all. Please tell your friends — and ask them to tell their friends — to notify friends and family in South Dakota, tell them about our website and how they can help through email, Facebook and Twitter.

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About the Mountain Lion Foundation.

The Mountain Lion Foundation, founded in 1986, is a national nonprofit organization protecting mountain lions and their habitat. The mountain lion is also known as cougar, puma, panther, and catamount.

We believe that mountain lions are in peril. Our nation is on the verge of destroying this apex species upon which whole ecosystems depend. Hunting mountain lions is morally unjustified, and killing lions to prevent conflicts is ineffective and dangerous. There is a critical need to know more about the biology, behavior, and ecology of mountain lions, and governments should base decisions upon truthful science, valid data, and the highest common good. Conserving critical lion habitat is essential.

There are many ways to contribute to Saving America's Lion!

Join Us Today:

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Make a special gift to the South Dakota Mountain Lion Legal Fund

You can make a special gift to the South Dakota Mountain Lion Legal Fund by clicking here.

You may also mail your contribution to Mountain Lion Foundation, P.O. Box 1896, Sacramento, California 95812 or call us at 916-442-2666.

Additional options for making a gift are available by clicking HERE.

However you choose to contribute, you help to give mountain lions a voice. Thank you!


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