The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission held its May meeting on Friday, May 24, in Chadron. Two main topics of interest were the finalization of the big game seasons and a public hearing on a possible Mountain Lion season.
The highlights of the big game season are twofold. First of all a significant Reduction in deer permits especially antlerless only tags occurred due to last years EHD Outbreak.
I specifically requested all antlerless only doe tags be eliminated from all permits in the Blue Northwest and the Blue Southeast Units. I think this will help the deer herd in Southeast Nebraska a chance to start recovering a little more quickly.
Secondly we added some additional doe fawn antelope permits in response to strong landowner requests in the region. With the drought and wildfires there have been extreme depredation problems and hay and forage are in very short supply.
As conditions return to normal we will readjust permit numbers in the future.
Below is a synopsis of the changes made in the Deer and Antelope seasons.
Deer season recommendations are made after considering input from landowners, hunters, general public and staff, and include data from landowner surveys, crop damage reports, deer vehicle collisions, deer harvest, hunter opinion and disease concerns.
The drought of 2012 was a significant event that reduced habitat quantity and quality, and set the stage for historic wildfires that burned about 600,000 acres in the Pine Ridge and Niobrara River Valley.
Dry conditions also led to our worst epizootic hemorrhagic disease (EHD) outbreak since the 1970s, with white-tailed deer in all management units except Frenchman experiencing significant mortality.
We estimate that about 30 percent of the state’s whitetail herd succumbed to the disease, with only minor losses seen in mule deer and pronghorn.
In response to these events, the Commission intends to remove bonus tags from all statewide deer permits (Archery, Muzzleloader, Youth, and Statewide Buck), as well as from November firearm tags in the Blue Northwest, Blue Southeast, Calamus East, Calamus West, Elkhorn, Loup East, Loup West, Missouri and Wahoo units.
There will also be permit reductions of 10-20% in all November firearm units except Frenchman Whitetail, Plains, Upper Platte, and the 10-40 percent reductions on Season Choice Area (SCA) permits made in October of 2012 will remain in place. Bonus tags will also be removed on Blue Northwest and Blue Southeast SCA permits.
Pronghorn numbers and permits have risen in recent years, and the total harvest in 2012 (935) was the highest since 1984. The proportion of yearling bucks in the harvest is acceptable (less than 20 percent) in all units except Banner South (27 percent) and Garden (21 percent).
Hunter success for bucks is above the management goal (65 percent) in all units except in Sandhill units (Cherry, Dismal, Garden and Eastern Sandhills).
Page 2 of 3 - Low success in the Sandhills was a result of drought which caused animals to move from traditional areas and also caused landowners to close hunter access due to concerns about range fires from hunter vehicles.
Management goals are to reduce hunting pressure in Sandhill units where harvest success dropped below management objectives, to increase buck permits in units where harvest success is high, and to increase late season doe/fawn permits and season lengths in several units (particularly along the upper Niobrara River) to reduce depredation complaints.
Mountain Lion Public Hearing
The public testimony heard on a possible Mountain Lion or “Cougar” season was passionate and very interesting. About twenty five persons or organizations testified. The majority of testimony was in favor of having a season.
Listed below is a historical perspective of Mountain Lions in Nebraska.You will also find the Game and Parks staff recommendations for the inaugural season.
In 1995 the Nebraska Legislature added mountain lions to the statutory list of game animals, thereby affording protection for mountain lions under the Game Law. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (hereafter, Commission) began formally investigating observations of mountain lion presence after the original confirmation in 1991.
In 2004 the Commission adopted a Mountain Lion Response Plan that detailed the agency’s response to various situations regarding mountain lions and identifies criteria for confirming presence of mountain lions in Nebraska. Mountain lion presence was documented on 24 occasions between 1991 and the beginning of 2006. During this timeframe, all mountain lions for which age and gender could be determined were young males that fit the profile of dispersing animals.
No evidence of resident animals or females was documented until 2006, when a female ear-tagged in South Dakota was photographed in the Pine Ridge area of northwestern Nebraska.
A female mountain lion with a litter of kittens was documented the following year in 2007, which provided the first evidence of a resident population. Based on this evidence, mountain lions appear to have recolonized the Pine Ridge during the mid-2000s, and kittens have been documented in the Pine Ridge every year since 2007.
Commission staff have estimated the size of the mountain lion population (about 22 total animals as of June 2012 )and area of suitable habitat in the Pine Ridge and determined that the population could support a harvest of 1-3 mountain lions in early 2014.
A hunting season has been proposed with the objective of providing a harvest opportunity for mountain lions in Nebraska while allowing the population to remain stable. A quota of three mountain lions with a sub-quota of one female is proposed for the hunting season which would begin on Jan. 1, 2014.
The sub-quota for female mountain lions provides assurance that this native game species will not be eliminated through hunter harvest. The number of permits issued and use of dogs in Period 2 will allow the harvest quota to be met while decreasing the likelihood of exceeding the harvest quota.
Page 3 of 3 - The Commission recognizes the Pine Ridge population is connected by immigration and emigration to mountain lion populations in South Dakota and Wyoming.
We will continue to communicate with neighboring states to ensure sound management. The Commission intends to manage mountain lion populations over time with consideration given to social acceptance, effects on prey populations, depredation on pets and livestock, and human safety.
At the conclusion of the testimony , the board voted to table the proposal until the July meeting.
Due to many good thoughts and ideas brought up during the public discussion the board directed staff to meet with The Big Game Committee and revise the proposals for the Mountain Lion Season.
It appears as though a final decision will be reached on the Mountain Lion season at the July meeting in Lincoln.