Photo Showcase: Mountain lions in Nebraska and Iowa.
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LINCOLN — Nebraska's wildlife agency wants its ducks in a row in case it needs to declare open season on mountain lions.
A bill introduced Tuesday in the Nebraska Legislature would allow the Game and Parks Commission to set a season and sell permits to hunt the state's largest wild predator.
The agency, however, has no definite plans to make big cats the target of hunters if Legislative Bill 928 should pass, said Sam Wilson, a wildlife biologist who monitors mountain lions in Nebraska.
“If our research shows we can or should have a mountain lion hunting season, we will be able to do that,” Wilson said.
But an acclaimed wildlife photographer with Nebraska roots urged senators to bag the idea of hunting the cats.
“I think it's great that they're coming back, but they're coming back slowly,” said Thomas Mangelsen, who founded a conservation group called the Cougar Fund. “I think it's way premature to have a hunting season on them in Nebraska.”
Hunting cougars can result in orphaned immature cats, which are often the ones that cause problems for humans, said Mangelsen, who lives in Wyoming and owns the Images of Nature gallery in the Old Market.
Although mountain lions were driven from the state in the early 1900s, a small, breeding population has recolonized the Pine Ridge of northwest Nebraska.
Through genetic testing of cat scat, biologists estimate that about 20 mountain lions inhabit the region.
But the big cats also show up in other areas. Since 1991, Game and Parks has confirmed 55 cougars in counties outside the Pine Ridge.
Nebraska, California and Florida are the only states with breeding populations that currently prohibit hunting of the big cats. A total of 13 states, mostly in the West, permit cougar hunting.
Nebraska law already allows people to kill a mountain lion if it poses a threat to humans or livestock. In November, a 15-year-old hunter told authorities that he shot and killed a cat near Creighton, Neb., that had bared its teeth and growled.
No livestock kills in Nebraska have been linked to mountain lions, Wilson said.
A lawmaker who has had some first-hand experience with mountain lions, State Sen. LeRoy Loudon of Ellsworth, introduced the bill.
Loudon said a mountain lion once ran across the front yard of his ranch house in rural northwest Nebraska.
“There's plenty of them around,” Loudon said.
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