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New mountain lion data for the Pine Ridge

Mountain Lion
A mountain lion perches on a log in the Pine Ridge of Sheridan County. (Nebraskaland/Justin Haag)

CHADRON, Nebraska — The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission has new data for a cat that triggers a lot of discussion, yet is rarely seen. It’s the puma, the cougar, or as most people call it, the mountain lion.

Sam Wilson, the furbearer and carnivore program manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, reported updates for the states’ management of the species during the agency’s May 8 commissioners meeting. The report included a new population figure for the Pine Ridge, the region in which cougars have re-established themselves in Nebraska for the longest time.

Panhandle Afield LogoWhile the agency doesn’t have scientific estimates for populations in the Wildcat Hills, Niobrara Valley or the entire state, Wilson said the research projects in the Pine Ridge, which include both the Capwire and mark-recapture methods, have resulted in reliable scientific-based estimates of mountain lions for that region. The 2019 surveys arrived at a population estimate of 34 in the Pine Ridge, down from 59 in 2017. The new population figure reflects five mountain lions per 100 square kilometers of suitable habitat for the species. Wilson said the goal is five to seven.

“We wanted to bring that population down because the density was higher in the Pine Ridge than it was in most of the Mountain West states where mountain lions are hunted,” he said.

One important component of managing mountain lions in Nebraska is the hunting season, which ran from Jan. 2 to March 31 in the Pine Ridge. It marked the third regulated hunting season for the species in Nebraska. The season had a quota of eight total cats, with no more than two females allowed for harvest in each of the two designated subunits. The 398 permit holders harvested seven cats, the most of any of the state’s three seasons. Five were harvested in 2019 and three in 2014.

This year’s total consisted of five males and two females. One of those toms was 7 years old and 171 pounds – the largest of any cat taken during Nebraska’s three hunting seasons.

Wilson said Game and Parks plans to keep a close watch on the species, which the Nebraska Legislature has classified as a game animal, and continue making management decisions based on science. The state’s management plan states that Nebraska will have resilient and socially acceptable mountain lion populations that are in balance with habitat and other wildlife populations. The next round of surveys in the Pine Ridge is scheduled for 2021.

“We’re going to continue managing mountain lions as a game animal, so that will include harvest seasons when it’s appropriate to meet our management goals,” Wilson said.

More details are in Wilson’s presentation at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s website for the species, outdoornebraska.org/mountainlions.

About Justin Haag

Justin Haag has served the Commission as a public information officer in the Panhandle since 2013. His duties include serving as regional editor for NEBRASKAland Magazine. Haag was raised in southwestern Nebraska, where he developed a love for fishing, hunting and other outdoor pursuits. After earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Chadron State College in 1996, he worked four years as an editor and reporter at newspapers in Chadron and McCook. Prior to joining the Commission in 2013, he worked 12 years as a communicator at Chadron State, serving as the institution’s media and public relations coordinator the last five. He and his wife, Cricket, live in Chadron, and have two children.

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