Tempers flare during hearings for 3 LGBT bills

At one point, State Sen. Brad Ashford, Judiciary Committee chairman, threatened to clear the room after an outburst by opponents of the LGBT-related bills. The eruption followed extended questioning of opponents by Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha, seen here.

LINCOLN — State Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha sent a message to Nebraska's cougar country Friday.

He has no intention of backing down from his attempt to repeal a law authorizing the state's inaugural mountain lion hunting season that is now under way.

Chambers met Thursday and Friday with Stacy Swinney of Chadron, a Dawes County commissioner, who traveled to Lincoln to try to soften the lawmaker's stance.

“I told him I'm rock solid on fighting everything pertaining to Game and Parks until this hunting authorization is repealed,'' Chambers said.

Swinney said Chambers told him that he is a hard man to talk to about the issue because his mind is made up. Chambers introduced Legislative Bill 671 last week to repeal a 2012 law that authorized the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to create a hunting season. A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for Jan. 29.

Swinney said he was “cautiously optimistic'' that Chambers would modify his opposition. He invited Chambers to visit the Pine Ridge for a tour of cougar territory.

“We've got a mountain lion problem,'' Swinney said. “It's going to be a crisis about the time a mountain lion takes one of our people.''

Swinney said hunting cougars helps put fear of people into the big cats.

“They're not afraid now,'' he said. “If we can make them run from us, then half the battle is won. We're holding our breath that nothing happens out there.''

Mountain lions started repopulating western Nebraska in the early 1990s. Wildlife biologists estimate the Pine Ridge has a resident population of about 22 cougars.

Nebraska's hunting season opened Jan. 1, and the first two hunters with permits killed one male cougar apiece with the aid of hunting dogs. The Pine Ridge season is closed until mid-February when 100 other hunters with permits won in a lottery are allowed six weeks to kill either two more males or one female cougar. The hunters are not allowed to use dogs.

Cougar hunting across most of the rest of Nebraska remains open all year for those who buy a $15 permit.

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