The cougar killing continued this week, as Game, Fish & Parks Department officers shot two more mountain lions after the cats wandered into residential areas.
GF&P regional wildlife manager John Kanta of Rapid City said Wednesday that a skinny female lion, estimated at 6 to 7 months old, was shot in Custer late Tuesday evening. Kanta said GF&P had received previous reports of a lion in the Custer area before Tuesday, when the cat ended up "in the middle of town."
"We got a report that a lion was walking through town, and one of our officers was able to get there quickly," Kanta said. "He euthanized her right there in town. She was emaciated. Clearly something was going on with her."
A healthier-looking male lion, estimated at 1-½ years old, was shot just outside the north city limits of Rapid City on Tuesday evening as well, Kanta said.
"We got a report that a lion was up a tree out on West Nike Road just north of town. One of our officers responded, and the lion was still there up in a tree" he said. "Technically, it was just outside the city limits. It's a small subdivision."
That made four cougars killed in 11 days by GF&P and Rapid City police. A female lion estimated at about 2 years old was shot by police shortly after midnight June 15 in a parking lot off Omaha Street. And a 1-year-old female lion was shot last Saturday when it entered a machine shed at a residence on North Reservoir Road on the northeast edge of town.
GF&P typically kills lions that attack pets or livestock, threaten people or come into residential areas. Kanta said there is no clear reason for the recent flurry of lion activity near humans. Such spikes have occurred through the years without clear cause, he said.
"We just get these spurts of lion activity and spurts of lion reports," he said. "We haven't been able to determine a rhyme or reason for them."
But this spike will accelerate the already active discussion on lion management in the Black Hills, Kanta said.
"This comes at a time when some people already think we have a lot more lions than we're saying we do. They'll think this proves it," he said. "But there are also folks who worry about hurting the lion population who will say this is what happens when you increase the harvest and disrupt the family groups."
Dr. Sharon Seneczko, a Custer veterinarian and president of the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation, falls in that latter group. Seneczko has said for several years that higher kill quotas in the lion season would mean more dead females, more orphaned kittens and more young cats causing problems.
"This isn't surprising to me at all," she said of the recent string of lion incidents. "As they keep stepping up the season, killing more adult females, you get more young lions that haven't developed the savvy to hunt appropriately."
Kanta said that's something GF&P personnel "have our eye on," although there is no cause-effect documentation.
"There's no doubt we're disrupting more of those family groups" with higher kill quotas during recent lion seasons, he said.
But Steve Bulle of Hayward disagrees. A lion hunter who spends many days afield, Bulle disputes GF&P assertions that the lion population is declining and believes there are many more cougars than the agency says. The ease with which hunters killed 73 lions last season and the recent string of problem cats show that, he said.
Bulle also rejects the notion that the killing of female lions some of which still have dependent young during the hunting season is creating more problem cougars.
Bulle said in an email to the Journal that GF&P data from 2005 when the lion season began through 2011 shows that 49 lions killed for conflicts with humans were 2 years of age and older, while 46 problem lions were younger than 2 years old.
"I simply don't buy the notion that adult female lions 'train' their offspring to stay out of city limits and residential areas or that they teach them that domestic pets and livestock are off limits," he said.