Mountain Lions in the State of Nebraska

As one of the states most recently recolonized by mountain lions, Nebraska’s lion population is still struggling to get a foothold. Until recently, mountain lions in Nebraska were protected from trophy hunting.

In 2014, with fewer than 33 lions in the state, Nebraska held its first hunting season and has continued since then. Most recently the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved a 2021 hunting season. Even acknowledging that the state’s mountain lion population is declining, the state opted to go ahead with a lower hunt quota rather than cancel the hunt altogether.

Click on the tabs below to learn more about mountain lion policy, laws, alerts, and more!

History

Native Peoples

Native people memorialized the cougar in rock carvings, totems, in story and in song. As European settlement expanded in the 1840’s, cougar persecution and riding the landscape of dangerous wildlife became more common.

After the Pleistocene ice age 10,000 years ago, the stone age culture inhabited the American landscape as nomadic hunters of large game, including the Woolly Mammoth, giant bison and the saber-tooth tiger. Slowly, mountain lions recolonized North America after having retreated to warmer climates in South America during the Pleistocene ice age. Mountain lions would have inhabited all of what is now Nebraska, roaming the hills and plains as an apex predator, hunting deer, elk and other large game.

More recently, many Great Plains Native American tribes inhabited Nebraska, including the Pawnee, the Omaha, the Lakota Sioux, the Winnebago and the Cheyenne. Generally, all tribes practiced some form of agriculture and seasonal hunting of the buffalo, though those tribes who acquired horses were able to live a more nomadic lifestyle, following resources year-round. All Plains tribes lived alongside mountain lions, though lions were more common in the western half of the state as it provided more hilly terrain and cover suitable for mountain lion habitat. Mountain lions were revered as strong and powerful spiritual teachers. In fact, there is a Winnebago legend about a young man who was blessed by a mountain lion who traveled with him and gave him strength to win a battle with the warriors of another village who had taken his wife.

European Settlement

In addition to great civil unrest that grew between tribes, they were also forced off their traditional lands through a total of 18 separate treaties that ceded tribal lands to the U.S. government between 1825 and 1892. Many tribes were completely displaced by relocation to Indian Territory, a U.S. government territory set aside for Native American occupation to clear the land for settlers. By the 1850s, only the Pawnee, Omaha, Ponca, Lakota and Cheyenne remained as Great Plains tribes living in Nebraska territory.

The Homestead Act of 1862 opened up the Great Plains, including Nebraska, by granting white settler families 160 acres of surveyed ‘public’ (formerly tribal) land that required 5 years of continuous residence. Europeans settling the territory set about clearing the land of mountain lions and other predators, fearing for their own safety and for their livestock. It took just over 30 years to extirpate the big cats by any means possible, including shooting, trapping and poison baiting.

Fur Trade

There was a robust fur trade established in northwestern Nebraska during the 1800s but there is no mention of mountain lion skins being a desirable commodity to fur traders there. The mountain men who came after Lewis and Clark in the early 1800s trapped mainly beaver and otter. The Bordeaux Trading post was established in 1837 under orders from the American Fur Company and set up trade with the Sioux and other local tribes. Once the beaver were trapped out, demand ran to buffalo robes and the Sioux and other tribes supplied quantities of buffalo skins that were shipped back east by boat. During the 1860s, hostilities grew between non-treaty Native Americans and the fur traders and trade became dangerous. By 1872 the fur trade with the Native Americans was all but dead. There were no more buffalo robes to sell and the last fur traders sold antelope, deer and wolf skins, cattle hides and ponies.

Bounty

According to the Farmers Bulletin 1165 from the USDA, ‘Laws Relating to Fur-Bearing Animals 1920’ counties in Nebraska who voted in general election to instate bounties on fur-bearers could charge $3 for a mountain lion at that time. There have been no state-wide bounties put out on mountain lions in Nebraska.

Unregulated Hunting

Since their extirpation from Nebraska in the late 1890s, unregulated hunting has historically forced remaining native populations to retreat to surrounding states with mountain lion habitat: Wyoming, Montana and South Dakota. It was not until the early 1990s when they achieved game status with no open hunt that individuals began again to disperse back into Nebraska.

Sport and Recreational Hunting

Mountain lions were classified as a game species by the Nebraska State Legislature in 1995, mandating the Commission to set hunting seasons only if the lion population was large enough to sustain a harvest. This gave Nebraska lions some protection under Commission ruling until 2014 when, in a controversial decision, hunting permits were issued for mountain lions for the first time. During the prior two decades, game status appeared to protect mountain lions and allowed for some re-colonization of suitable habitat and establishment of breeding populations.

 

Status

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 2017, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) has estimated that 59 individual lions, counting both adults and kittens, call the Pine Ridge region of northwest Nebraska home.

In 2014, the year that Nebraska held its inaugural mountain lion hunt, the State estimated that the population in the Pine Ridge area was between 22 and 33 individuals. During the 2014 season, 5 mountain lions were killed by hunters. Due to an unanticipated number of lion deaths, hunts from 2015-2017 were suspended.

In 2019, Nebraska Game and Parks held a second hunt despite its population estimate of 59 total mountain lions — including kittens. During the 2019 season, hunters killed 5 mountain lions — three males and two females. There were six other known mountain lion deaths in the Pine Ridge region since the approval of the hunt. In May 2019, NGPC announced its plans for a 2020 hunting season. The current population size in Nebraska is currently unknown.

Eastern Front of Puma Recovery

On March 2nd, 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the eastern cougar to be extinct. Mountain lions used to roam the entire country, coast to coast, and the eastern cougar subspecies (Puma concolor couguar) occupied the northeast region. By the 1850s, hunting pressure had made mountain lions rare in the eastern two thirds of the continent. Mountain lions were functionally extinct in the Midwest by 1860, the mid-Atlantic states by 1882, in the south coastal states by 1886, in central Appalachia by 1900, and in New England by 1906.

In 1973, Congress passes the Endangered Species Act, designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a ‘consequence of economic growth and development untendered by adequate concern and conservation.’ Eastern cougars were among the first species listed as a federally endangered subspecies under the Act. Before recent sightings, the last known mountain lion in Nebraska was killed in 1890.

Though cougars have been functionally extinct in the East Coast and Midwest for over a century, the USFWS continues to receive reports of sightings. They have not been able to confirm any of these cats were the eastern cougar subspecies, rather they believe these individuals have been released pets or lions dispersing from the western population. Animals from the eastern front of puma populations in the West, like those living in Nebraska, have become the key to potential recover for eastern populations.

With the appropriate protections to the species and their habitat, perhaps we could recover our lost mountain lions, and they could once again wander the land in which they formerly lived.

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, October 2012 to December 2013, and January 2015 to present.

MOUNTAIN LION MORTALITIES IN NEBRASKA

2000 – DECEMBER 31, 2014

 
TOTAL 37
Hunting 5
Vehicular Trauma 8
Depredation Removal 0
Public Safety 19
USDA Wildlife Services 0
Illegal / Accidental 5

 

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

Sport Hunting Begins – January 2014

In late 2012, research indicated the state might have as many as 22 resident lions. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission determined the lion population had grown “large enough to sustain a harvest” in the Pine Ridge area.

Mountain lion hunting tags were sold in 2013 through a lottery system for the state’s first lion hunt. Though promoted as a once in a lifetime event and offered at the dirt-cheap price of $15, only 395 Nebraskans applied for the chance to hunt a mountain lion.

On January 1, 2014, Nebraska’s inaugural lion hunt began. Up to four lions were authorized to be killed in the Pine Ridge before March 31st, and an unlimited number of lions could be hunted year-round in the prairie region—which encompasses approximately 85% of the state—and would not count towards the quota.

Nebraska’s first Pine Ridge hunt (Jan 1-Feb 14) had a quota of 2 males or 1 female lion, allowed the use of hounds, and was restricted to two hunters: a “lucky” lottery winner, and the “Big Bucks” winner of a permit auctioned off by the Nebraska Big Game Society. In an effort to justify that action, proceeds from the auction were to be given to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission reportedly for mountain lion conservation, management and research.

Pine Ridge’s initial season lasted less than 48 hours due to both men shooting male cats on January 2nd. The hunt area’s second phase began on February 15th and allowed 100 lottery winners their chance to kill one of the few remaining lions. The quota for the second session was also 2 males or 1 female lion.

Sport Hunting on Hold for 2015

After their meeting on January 15, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission Director Jim Douglas announced there will be no mountain lion hunting season in 2015. Claiming the Commission’s decision was not a result of the controversy generated by Nebraska’s inaugural lion hunt, Director Douglas indicated they need to review the situation and there might be a mountain lion hunt in 2016.

At the beginning of the 2014 lion hunting season, the Commission estimated Nebraska might have 22 resident mountain lions.

Last year, there were 16 documented mountain lion deaths in Nebraska, including five killed legally by hunters; four killed legally because people felt threatened; three incidentally trapped; two killed by vehicles; and two taken illegally. Ten of the mountain lions killed were females, which Director Douglas cited as a factor in the Commission’s decision to not have a hunting season this year.

In addition, the Commission budgeted $60,000 for radio collars, trail cameras and three years of scat surveys to “better understand and manage the mountain lion population.”

There is no indication that State Senator Ernie Chambers plans to stop his legislative efforts (LB 127) to remove the Commission’s authority to hold mountain lion hunts.

Habitat

Nebraska Cougar Habitat

Before European settlement, mountain lions roamed throughout Nebraska and beyond. Perceived conflict with livestock, heavy hunting pressure, conversion of wildlands to agriculture and other forms of habitat loss nearly drove Nebraska’s mountain lions locally extinct. Since the early 2000s, there has been evidence trickling in that mountain lions may be making a slow and incremental comeback to parts of Nebraska.

A study by LaRue (2007) estimates that there are 8,609 square kilometers of mountain lion habitat in Nebraska. Within some of this area, there appears to be a small breeding population in the northwest corner of the state in the Pine Ridge area. Wildlife officials believe there may be a couple dozen cats living in the hills there. There is also evidence of even smaller populations near Valentine and Scottsbluff.

Despite having such a tiny and precarious population, a 2012 law allowed mountain lion hunting within the state. Hunting is limited in the Pine Ridge area where most of the lions live, but tags are unlimited in the Prairie Unit, which encompasses most of the rest of the state.

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.

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

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.

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.

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 Game and Parks Commission released its Mountain Lion Management Plan in 2017. The Plan outlines NGPC’s goals to “monitor mountain lion populations and use regulated harvest as a primary strategy for meeting management goals and objectives when possible.”

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 Transportation 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.

Mountain Lion Legislation in Nebraska

LB 961 (2016)

Introduced by Senator Ernie Chambers on January 14, 2016, this bill was a third attempt to stop mountain lion hunting in Nebraska after Chambers’ previous two bills were killed.

For more information on the bill  visit the Nebraska Legislature’s LB 961 webpage.

LB 127 (2015)

“Eliminate provisions relating to hunting mountain lions”

Introduced by Senator Ernie Chambers on January 9, 2015, this bill is a second attempt to stop mountain lion hunting in Nebraska after Chambers’ 2014 bill was vetoed by the Governor.

LB 127 was indefinitely postponed on January 12, 2016 by the Natural Resources Committee, making it effectively dead. The given reasons? Senator Schilz, chair of the Natural Resources Committee, commented that NGPC needs to be able to use hunting as a tool to control wildlife. Other members said that if the legislature banned the hunting of mountain lions, they may be pressured to outlaw the hunting of other species in the future.

LB 671 (2014)

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

This bill was ultimately vetoed by the Governor and failed to become law.

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, October 2012 to December 2013, and January 2015 to present.

Action

Nebraska’s Mountain Lion Hunt is Unsustainable

Nebraska’s native mountain lions are in peril. In June 2020, the Game and Parks Commission’s voted to approve a hunt quota for the 2021 season that is unsustainable. A healthy mountain lion population is essential for a resilient and balanced ecosystem and even supports at least one federally endangered species of beetle in Nebraska.

The Commission’s approved plan allows hunters to kill up to four lions in the Pine Ridge region. While that’s half of the previous year’s quota, it’s still unsustainable. Given this population’s precarious foothold in the region, it cannot withstand any hunting whatsoever.

Once driven to extinction in the state, the animals have struggled to make a comeback, and it was only in 2007 that biologists identified a new mountain lion kitten in the Pine Ridge region. Rather than continuing to grow and gain a foothold, the population has decreased by half since 2017. While the current population estimate is 34, that doesn’t account for the seven lions killed in the 2020 season. There are about 27 lions in the Pine Ridge at the moment. Considering that about 1/3 of them are kittens or juveniles, that leaves approximately 18 breeding-age lions in this population that can be legally hunted. This is very bad news for this native species.

Wildlife biologists point to the aptly named 50/500 rule, which says a population needs at least 50 breeding individuals in order to avoid the short-term effects of inbreeding, and it needs 500 individuals to avoid the long-term effects of genetic drift which can leave small populations susceptible to reduced biological fitness. With fewer than 20 breeding adults in the Pine Ridge, the population is already in jeopardy. Removing four more in the name of recreation or trophy hunting places a potentially devastating stress on this population.

As a keystone species, the mountain lion’s presence supports numerous other plant and animal communities. For example, the federally endangered American burying beetle, Nicrophorus americanus, which is found and protected in Nebraska, depends on animal carcasses for survival. A recent study found that mountain lion kills provide food and habitat for over 200 carrion beetles. Maintaining a healthy mountain lion population in the Pine Ridge region may facilitate the beetle’s recolonization.

This native species has an inherent right to survive and flourish in the wild. Hunting a small and imperiled population like the one at Pine Ridge should be the last thing on the Commission’s agenda, especially given their stated goal to maintain healthy, stable mountain lion populations in the state. This is a time for conservation and protection. The only right choice is for them to stop the hunt immediately and in perpetuity for the health of Nebraska’s wildlife, wild lands, and for future generations.

Check back often for Nebraska’s Action Alerts!

Story Map

Coming soon!

Library

Nebraska Cougar Files Sorted by Type

Scientific Research

  • Benedict, R. A., Freeman, P. W., & Genoways, H. H. (1996). Prairie Legacies – Mammals. Prairie Conservation: Preserving North American’s Most Endangered Ecosystem, 17.
  • Benedict, R. A., Genoways, H. H., & Freeman, P. W. (2000). Shifting distributional patterns of mammals in Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, 26, 55–84.
  • Freeman, P. W. (2005). Mammalogy Papers: University of Nebraska Nebraska ’ s Endangered Species , Part 6: Threatened and Endangered Mammals Nebraska ’ s Endangered Species Part 6: Threatened and Endangered Mammals.
  • Freeman, P. W., & Lemen, C. A. (2007). The trade-off between tooth strength and tooth penetration: Predicting optimal shape of canine teeth. Journal of Zoology, 273(3), 273–280.
  • Freeman, P. W., Lemen, C. a, Freeman, P. W., & Lemen, C. (2006). An experimental approach to modeling the strength of canine teeth An experimental approach to modeling the strength of canine teeth.
  • Genoways, H. H., & Freeman, P. W. (1996). Mammalogy Papers: University of Nebraska a Recent record of mountain lions in Nebraska, 2–4.
  • Hoffman, J., & Genoways, H. (2005). Recent records of formerly extirpated carnivores in Nebraska. Prairie Naturalist, 37(4), 225–245.
  • Landholt, L. M., & Genoways, H. H. (2000). Population trends in furbearers in Nebraska. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences, 26, 97–110.
  • Smith, A., & Smith, D. A. (1996). Mammals of the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone. Assessment of Species Diversity in the Mixedwood Plains Ecozone.
  • Wilson, S., Hoffman, J. D., & Genoways, H. H. (2010). Observations of Reproduction in Mountain Lions from Nebraska. Western North American Naturalist, 70(2), 238–240.

Agency Reports

  • Langan, M. (2013). Mountain Lions and Cherry County Property.
  • Marshall, C. (n.d.). Answers to Questions Posed by Commissioner Marshall.
  • NGPC. (2012). Nebraska Game and Parks Commission 2200 N 33, 68503.
  • NGPC. (2012). Puma Mortalities, 68503.
  • NGPC. (2013). Confirmed Mountain Lion Presence in Nebraska 1991- Present, 1–7.
  • NGPC. (2013). Mountain lion hunting seasons, 1–24.
  • NGPC. (2014). 2014 Prairie Mountain Lion Management Unit.
  • NGPC. (2014). Agency working to learn more about mountain lions in Nebraska, 2014–2015.
  • NGPC. (2014). Agency Works to Learn More About Mountain Lions in Nebraska.
  • NGPC. (2014). The Value of Predators – Nebraskaland Magazine.pdf.
  • NGPC. (n.d.). Mountain Lion Response Plan.
  • NGPC. (n.d.). NE A NGPC Cougar Mortality Statistics.pdf.
  • NGPC. (n.d.). STATUS REPORT ON MOUNTAIN LIONS IN NEBRASKA, 11–13.
  • NGPC. Title 163.

Agency Regulations

Legal

  • Legislature. (1998). The Nebraska Nongame and Endangered Species Conservation Act (NESCA) ARTICLE 8 . NONGAME AND ENDANGERED SPECIES CONSERVATION ACT . § 37-806 . Endangered or threatened species; how determined; commission; powers and duties; unlawful acts; exceptions, (1993).
  • Legislature. (2009). One Hundred First of Nebraska Legislature First Session Legislative Bill 437, 1–6.
  • Legislature. (2010). One Hundred of Nebraska legislature – First second session Bill 836, 1–6.
  • Secretary of State (2013). How to use the initiative and referendum process in Nebraska, (June).

Other

  • Grier, B., Game, N., & Commission, P. (2009). Return of the Big Cats Text and photos by Michael Forsberg, (December), 39–41.
  • Nebraskan, D., Hirst, B. E., & Baskin, C. (2010). Farmers could shoot mountain lions if bill passes.
  • Humane Society 2008 Workers Spot Mountain Lion.
  • Associated Press 2008 Mountain Lion Killed on North Side of Scottsbluff. Associated Press.
  • Associated Press 2008 Neb. Associated Press.
  • Associated Press 2008 Official Says Omaha Sees 20 30 Reports of Cougar Sightings a Year. Associated Press.
  • Associated Press 2008 Scottsbluff Zoo Director Says “Something Wrong” with Mountain lion. Associated Press.
  • Associated Press Officals Call Off Search for Mountain Lion. Associated Press.
  • High Country News Letheby 2005 Lions and Tigers and Wolves, oh my, Even in the Midwest.
  • INAR News Service 2008 Claws Show Mountain Lion Traveled Hundreds of Miles.
  • Lambley 2005 Sorting Fact From Fiction.
  • Midland News Service Szalewski 2008 Big Cat Eludes Officers After Sightings.
  • NP Telegraph 2013 Cougar hunting hits a snare.
  • Sun Newspapers Jerde 2005 EP Residen; Get Rid of Cougars Now.
  • World Herald Larson 2008 “Probable” Cougar Sighting Leads to Searches.
  • Hendee 2015 Nebraska wont have mountain lion hunting season in 2015.
  • Statutes, R., & Supplement, C. (2013). Legislative Bill 160, 1–13.
  • Stoddard, B. M. (2010). Bills aim at mountain lions , deer.