Mount Rushmore, South Dakota
Photo of landsacape.


Help ensure a future for mountain lions in South Dakota.

Though mountain lions once roamed the hills and forests across South Dakota, persecution at the hands of humans has driven them locally extinct in the majority of the state. They still live in the Black Hills, but suffer from high mortality in other parts of the state.

Although mountain lions may be physically capable of living in an area, human activities and attitudes could keep them from reestablishing a population there. Fragmentation, trophy hunting practices, and intolerant communities can wipe out mountain lions from any area. For more data on
                  habitat use, check out our various Science tabs.

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Mountain Lion Habitat in South Dakota

The state of South Dakota encompasses 75,896 square miles of land. Of this, the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks (SDGF&P) considers only the Black Hills region of the state (5,220 square miles), or less than seven percent of the state's land area, as viable mountain lion habitat. This distinction is purely artificial and based solely on the Department's determination to restrict their management oversight of the South Dakota's mountain lion population to a small corner of the state.

The National GAP Analysis Programs listing of suitable habitat, and prey species probability virtually guarantees that mountain lions could exist anywhere within the state.

Map of mountain lion distribution in South Dakota.

Regional Characteristics of the Black Hills

Isolated by the surrounding grasslands of the Northern Great Plains, the Black Hills are part of the eastern most extension of the Rocky Mountains, and are located in west-central South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming.

The Black Hills are dome-shaped, sloping more steeply to the east than to the west with a high elevation of 7,241 feet above mean sea level. Forest cover in the Black Hills is predominantly ponderosa pine with codominants of white spruce and quaking aspen at higher elevations.

Large ungulate prey species available to mountain lions include: white-tailed deer, mule deer elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain goats. In addition, porcupine and voles are commonly consumed by mountain lions in the Black Hills region.

South Dakota Mountain Lion Population Estimates

It is believed that the last mountain lion was extirpated in South Dakota in 1906. Over the next sixty-plus years, a few transient mountain lions originating in Wyoming would wander into the state, but this must have been a fairly rare occurrence because despite a bounty placed on every mountain lion killed in South Dakota there are no reports of a lion being killed until 1931, with the next not occurring until 1959.

In 1997, based on unverified anecdotal information, SDGF&P estimated that somewhere between 40 to 50 mountain lions resided in the Black Hills with an additional 15-25 on the western South Dakota prairie. Six years later the Department claimed that the results of a five-year research project indicated a population estimate of 127-149 lions (an almost 300 percent increase) within the Black Hills ecosystem alone.

In SDGF&P's 2017 Mountain Lion Status Report, the Department now 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. While MLF has no direct knowledge regarding how many mountain lions there really are, we have difficulty accepting this "official" count, especially since it is being used to justify a drastic increase in the upcoming mountain lion hunting quotas. MLF's review of the management plan 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.

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South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks

Commonly abbreviated as: SDGFP

Tony Leif, Director of Wildlife

Main Office:
South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks
523 East Capitol Ave
Pierre, SD 57501
(605) 223-7660

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.