Michael Pearce

March 21, 2010

Mountain lions have no place in the Legislature

First things first.

Michael Pearce

The Eagle's outdoor reporter highlights the latest hunting, fishing and wildlife news.

First things first.

Yes, I believe there are a few mountain lions in Kansas.

Yes, I think landowners have a right to protect human lives and their property.

No, I'll never understand why some Kansans claim to see mountain lions nearly weekly while some of my friends who have ranched and hunted in the Rockies only see a few in their lifetimes.

And no, I don't understand why Rep. Mitch Holmes, R-St. John, is trying to declare an all-year war on mountain lions in the name of livestock protection.

Two wild mountain lions have been confirmed in Kansas in recent years — one was killed and another photographed last fall.

Despite hundreds of reports and rumors, no attacks on Kansas livestock have been tied to mountain lions by Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks officials.

Still, Holmes has repeatedly stated his case in the Legislature and before the Wildlife and Parks commission, and says he has long lists of witnesses who've seen many mountain lions and where they've maimed Kansas livestock.

With that in mind, I contacted a couple of guys in nearby states who should know something about mountain lions and their possible fondness for beef or horse flesh.

Sam Wilson is the mountain lion biologist for Nebraska. His state has 99 cases of confirmed mountain lion evidence since 1991.

Trail camera photos and road-kills aren't uncommon. The vast majority has been seen in the northwest corner, where there's now a reproducing population.

"None" was Wilson's quick answer when asked of documented cases of lions attacking Nebraska livestock.

As in Kansas, Nebraska biologists have documented damage by coyotes, dogs and, probably, barbed-wire fences — but no evidence of big cats after scores of investigations.

My next call was to John Kanta, South Dakota's mountain lion guru.

The Black Hills have a rapidly growing population estimated at about 250 cats. Lions wandering southward a few miles are the source of Nebraska's new population.

Mountain lion/livestock fatalities?

One... when some Dakota cattle "stomped the tar out of" a mountain lion.

He did say there had been several cases of Black Hills cats killing pets ranging from goats and llamas to dogs and cats.

So, in nearby states with hundreds of proven mountain lions, there are no problems with big cats eating livestock.

Seems to me Holmes and his legislative supporters have more pressing issues.

And now in addition to their other chores, he has Wildlife and Parks biologists wasting their time looking into a season that's not needed.

Should a problem mountain lion come to our prairies — and it certainly is a possibility — current laws allow the problem to be handled.

No matter if it's a food-stealing mouse or a sheep-killing mountain lion, Kansans can legally use deadly force to protect what's theirs. They can get state assistance if needed to eliminate a problem predator.

South Dakota, with all of its mountain lions, has a productive and well-managed season every winter. Other than that, their big cats are basically protected unless they're a threat.

Wilson said there is a bill in the Nebraska legislature detailing what its residents can do.

"If it's attacking you or you observe it attacking your property, you can kill it," he said. "If someone finds one of their animals dead and we confirm it was killed by a mountain lion, a permit will be issued to kill it. It's just common sense."

It's also something too often lacking in the legislature.

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