South Dakota: 2020 Mountain Lion Season Ends in Success for Hunters and the Lions

Contact: Nick Buggia, Upper Midwestern States Manager

April 30 marked the end of the 2019-2020 mountain lion season in the Black Hills of South Dakota. With a firm harvest limit of 60 total lions or 40 females in the Black Hills Fire Protection Area, the season ended with 51 total lions harvested, including 27 females and 24 males. With a target population of 200-300 lions in the Black Hills Fire Protection Area, South Dakota’s limited hunting season is designed to help maintain a healthy population and collect scientific data to determine species abundance, individual health, and demographics of the population. In the rest of the state, population objectives have not been set and mountain lions are managed with a year-round season primarily to avoid conflict with livestock, minimize human conflicts, and maximize hunter opportunity.

Mountain lions are a conservation success story in South Dakota. Once found throughout the state, the mountain lion population started declining in the early 1900s due to unregulated hunting and bounties. These bounties remained in place until 1966. In 1978, mountain lions were placed on the state threatened species list, and 25 years later, in 2003, mountain lions had recovered enough in the Black Hills to be removed from the threatened spices list. A resident-only season was established in 2005 and has been used successfully to manage mountain lion populations at the desired level.

In addition to being used as a management tool and for citizen-science data collection, the sale of the $28 mountain lion hunting licenses generates tens of thousands of dollars per year to help fund conservation efforts in South Dakota through the American System on Conservation Funding.

“The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks manages for a healthy population of mountain lions in the Black Hills of western South Dakota. With a healthy population of mountain lions in South Dakota we utilize hunting as a tool to maintain the population which allows us to offer a recreational opportunity for sportsmen and women,” said a member of the South Dakota Department of Game Fish and Parks. “Funding from mountain lion license sales is used to leverage federal funding that is in turn spent to fund mountain lion research, management and habitat improvements.”

Harvest levels were higher during the 2019-20 season than the previous year. During the 2018-19 season, 3,373 mountain lion hunting licenses were sold, and 21 mountain lions were harvested (13 males, 8 females) during the Black Hills Fire Prevention season. Additionally, 10 mountain lions were harvested in the remainder of the state. Interestingly, according to a state survey, only 40% of license holders spent time hunting during the season.

Although hunting seasons for mountain lions are controversial, sportsmen play an important role in helping the lion population thrive. The money from license fees fund conservation projects and the sustainable harvest of individual lions allow biologists to collect important demographic data used to make management decisions designed to maintain populations at a healthy and sustainable level. Achieving desired population goals helps reduce disease, competition for food, and territory. It also aids in reducing conflict with livestock and human populations that can result in negative public opinions and a devaluation of the species by local farmers, ranchers and communities. It is a testament to South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks and the sportsmen of the state that the mountain lion population has rebounded and is maintained at a healthy population that balances both ecosystem and societal needs.   

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