Commission denies expanded hound hunting for mountain lions after hundreds of comments

September 8, 2023

Joshua Haiar

WATERTOWN — After receiving hundreds of written public comments, the state Game, Fish and Parks Commission denied a proposal Thursday that would have allowed the use of dogs to hunt mountain lions in a broader area of the Black Hills.

However, Joshua Haiar with South Dakota Searchlight reports the commission, during a meeting in Watertown Thursday, directed the Department of Game, Fish and Parks to reassess its mountain lion management plan and bring recommendations next fall for the 2024 hunting season.

Commissioner Travis Bies — who made the motion to deny the proposal — said he supports hound hunting for mountain lions in the Black Hills, but agrees with GF&P Wildlife Director Tom Kirschenmann, who testified that the move would be premature without more research.

“I certainly understand the request from the houndsmen for more opportunity,” Kirschenmann added.

Hounds are utilized in mountain lion hunts for their scent-tracking abilities. Once the hounds detect the mountain lion’s trail, they pursue and often force the lion to ascend a tree. This “treeing” makes the lion more visible for hunters.

Research presented at a 2021 commission meeting indicated the mountain lion population was projected to decline.

As of December 2022, the estimate stood at 275 mountain lions in the Black Hills, but it’s projected to drop to just under 250 by the end of 2023. If the recent average of 26 females killed by hunters per season continues, the number could plummet to just above 200 by the end of 2024, according to the department.

Wildlife Program Administrator Andrew Norton said the implementation of the hound hunting proposal would “exacerbate that decline in population.”

And until the department brings hunters and wildlife advocates together to decide if that’s something the public wants to do, the commission agreed that the move would be premature.

“I’m not looking for this to happen overnight,” Bies said. But as with some of his fellow commissioners, he made it known that “I’m 100% for bringing dogs into the Black Hills.”

The proposal would allow for the annual harvesting of up to 12 mountain lions per year — six female and six male — in the Black Hills Forest Fire Protection District, which encompasses the entirety of the Black Hills in South Dakota. In addition, 15 permits already allow the use of dogs in Custer State Park.