LANDER — Mountain lions in the northeast part of Wyoming will not face an unlimited quota season this fall.
A new proposal by Wyoming Game and Fish Department biologists called for an existing hunt area in the Black Hills to be split in two. One of the new areas would have had an unlimited quota. The area is mostly on private land and the proposed unlimited quota was primarily a response to concerns by area landowners and residents, said Tom Ryder, assistant chief of the wildlife division for the Game and Fish Department.
The Wyoming Black Hills mountain lion population is one of the newest in the country and has one of the highest densities of any population in the state.
The Game and Fish Commission decided Tuesday in its Lander meeting to keep the new area but set a hunting limit of 25 lions.
“What we’ve done with that quota should meet the needs of the people there but also show that we are responsibly managing our resources,” Commissioner Fred Lindzey said.
Lindzey opposed an unlimited quota, saying it gave the impression that the Game and Fish Department did not care if cougars were extirpated in the area. He also worried that it would be harder to set a quota later, after an unlimited quota had been established.
A quota is a tool that allows the department to meet the needs of everyone interested in a species, he said.
Mountain lion supporters Lisa Rullman from The Cougar Fund and Franz Camenzind both spoke against an unlimited quota in the meeting and said the commission’s final decision was a small step in the right direction.
“The commission recognized that there are other values related to the cougar,” Camenzind said.
A quota of 25 is a large number and might not be that much of a change from unlimited quota depending on how many are hunted, but it’s a step, he said.
Last season, hunters killed 12 lions where the new hunt area will be. The seasons closed in northeast Wyoming in mid-November when all quotas were met, said Dan Thompson, a Game and Fish large carnivore biologist.
A quota of 25 will allow hunters to kill lions later into the season, which begins Sept. 1 and ends March 31. Ranchers and landowners in the area wanted an unlimited quota to address lion issues like depredation that occur after the season’s quota typically fills.
Thompson doesn’t know if a quota of 25 will last the season or fill before March 31, but it will cut the population.
No one from the public spoke in favor of an unlimited quota at the meeting. The department received a petition signed by 56 landowners in the North Bear Lodge area supporting the new area and unlimited quota.
Commissioner Ed Mignery supported an unlimited quota and voted against the change from unlimited to a quota of 25.
“We want to allow private landowners to take cats through an entire season,” Mignery said.
Even with an unlimited quota, Mignery said the number of lions killed would be limited.
Game and Fish typically sets mountain lion regulations every three years. Quotas were raised two years ago, and because of public concern over livestock kills and mule deer numbers, Game and Fish considered changing the regulations early.
“We will be able to learn something from this,” said Brian Nesvik, chief of the wildlife division.
“This will be in place for one year and we will come back next year.”
The commission also voted to raise quotas in the Platte Valley area in southeast Wyoming from seven to 12 lions in Hunt Area 9 and six to 11 lions in Hunt Area 31 as a response to dwindling mule deer populations.