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Mountain lion

Mountain lion 

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers is still fighting for the Nebraska wildlife he describes as majestic, regal. The mountain lion.

His bill (LB46) would end the authority of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to establish a hunting season for those mountain lions.

But he admits it's probably a fight that won't be won with this Legislature's Natural Resources Committee, which heard the bill on Thursday. 

"I know what the fate of this bill is going to be from what it has been in the past," Chambers told the committee. "I know this committee is going to kill the bill. They always do. The governor doesn't like the bill." 

It's true that in the previous two-year session — 2017 and 2018 — the committee let the bill languish and die at the end, as bills that are not acted upon do. 

In 2016, the Natural Resources Committee voted 8-0 to indefinitely postpone, or kill, the bill. In 2014, the committee voted 6-2 to forward the bill to the full Legislature, where it passed. But after Gov. Dave Heineman vetoed the bill, Chambers couldn't get 30 votes to override the veto. 

Game and Parks authorized a hunting season in 2014, and hunters legally killed five lions. In addition to those hunted, 11 others were killed by illegal hunting, traps and being hit by vehicles. Ten of them were females.

Another hunting season has been authorized this year, in Pine Ridge north and south regions, Jan. 1 through Feb. 28. The north region is limited to four lions, with no more than two females, with the same requirement for the south region.

If the harvest limit for a subunit is not reached during the first season, an added season for that region will be held March 15–31.

The application fee for a permit was $15. 

No one showed up to speak in favor of Chambers' bill on Thursday. But several, including two from the Game and Parks Commission, opposed it. 

Sam Wilson, carnivore program manager for Game and Parks, said about 59 mountain lions are estimated to be in the Pine Ridge region. 

The commission conducts research and investigations on the mountain lions, and keeps records on reproductions and location of litters, and started an intensive GPS project in 2015. 

"So we're heavily invested in learning more about mountain lions," Wilson said. 

Game and Parks Deputy Director Tim McCoy said the mountain lion was given protection by being named a game species by statute in 1995, and that has allowed them to be successful.

Scott Smathers, executive director of the Nebraska Sportsmen's Foundation, who also opposed the bill, said Game and Parks is the leading authority over wildlife in the state.

"The three-s (shoot, shovel and shut up) method of management with zero protection has occurred for many, many years, and that's what resulted in the loss of mountain lion population in the state of Nebraska," he said. 

After disappearing from Nebraska at the end of the 19th century, mountain lions only began making a comeback in 1991. Now the habitat and lion populations are expanding, he said.

Chambers said he doesn't have any illusions about what will happen to the bill. 

"But … I'm convinced that these animals should not be killed for the love of killing," he said. 

Amazing takes on Nebraska wildlife

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7228 or jyoung@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSLegislature.

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State government reporter

JoAnne Young covers state government, including the Legislature and state agencies, and the people they serve.

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