Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers told lawmakers Friday the bill that would repeal mountain lion hunting in Nebraska had affected him like no other in his 40 total years in the Legislature.
No issue, including the death penalty, has done what this one has to his mind, he said. People facing the death penalty at least have avenues available to overturn their sentences.
Mountain lions do not.
Chambers laid out his arguments Friday for fellow senators against allowing hunting seasons in Nebraska, for what has been calculated as about two dozen mountain lions, largely in the northwest part of the state. He noted that he made his points with considerable restraint.
"These animals are unoffending," he said.
By the end of the first-round debate, 31 senators agreed to advance the bill (LB671), that would prohibit the Game and Parks Commission from issuing permits to hunt mountain lions. Three hunting seasons have already opened.
Two male lions were killed in January in the Pine Ridge by hunters that had either won limited permits by lottery or auction. Another season is ongoing in about 85 percent of the state through the end of this year.
Chambers said especially objected to Game and Parks allowing the two hunters in the Pine Ridge to use dogs to tree their mountain lions before shooting them. Opponents of the bill said the dogs allowed hunters to get close enough to see whether the lion was male or female.
"And if we find out that it's a female, they can let it go," said Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala. "Because everybody knows that if you shoot one female, the season is automatically over."
Hunters are discouraged from killing females because they could be pregnant or have kittens.
Chambers said Nebraska is a corridor state, where lions migrate through and eventually populate more eastern states. They are known to be wide-ranging animals.
But the concern, said Sen. John Harms of Scottsbluff, was that they would stop migrating through Nebraska and stay. Would the numbers then cause problems for people or livestock?
"Time will tell," Harms said.
The bill would allow a farmer or rancher to kill a mountain lion that is a threat to livestock, and allow anyone who comes in contact with one to kill it immediately if it is stalking, attacking or showing unprovoked aggression.