Sunday, April 22, 2007

Changes proposed for third N.D. cougar hunting season

Bismarck Tribune

Two hunting zones, a quota of five mountain lions in the predators' prime Badlands habitat and no quota throughout the rest of the state, are among the proposals for the 2007-08 mountain lion season.

The plans for a third mountain lion season are being aired by the North Dakota Game and Fish Department at spring advisory board meetings around the state, but the proposal still must go to Gov. John Hoeven for the final say.

Also in the plan is an earlier start for hunters who use dogs. Their season would open Dec. 1, a month earlier than last year when the season closed before houndsmen could get out.

This third lion season will be a continuation of the learning process, Randy Kreil, NDGFDwildlife division chief, said Friday.

"We learned a lot after the first two seasons, and we will learn a lot after we implement these changes," he explained.

Season dates will be Aug. 31 through March 9 in Zone 2, which covers most of the state and isn't considered good lion habitat. Four of the five cougars killed last season were in Zone 2.

"There's no habitat (on the plains), and we don't expect (mountain lions) to set up shop there," Greg Link, NDGFD assistant wildlife chief, said Friday. Young lions in search of territory do move through such country.

Zone 1 will lie west of Highway 8 and south of Highway 1804. It will have the same Aug. 31 opener, but hunting will close once the fifth cat is taken.

All of the cats harvested under the zone 1 quota will be hunter killed, Link added. Lions killed for human safety, hit by vehicles, killed in defense of livestock or taken in traps or snares will not count against the quota.

A winter track survey also showed evidence of mountain lions farther south than typical, said Dorothy Fecske, NDGFD furbearer biologist. Researchers drove 400 miles of roads twice after snowfalls and checked for mountain lion tracks.

"There were decent tracks in the central Badlands," said Fecske.

By collecting blood from one set of tracks in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and sending it to a laboratory to be tested, Fecske was able to determine the gender of one cat.

"We've documented one female in the park," she said.

Sixteen mountain lion sighting have been confirmed so far in 2007, compared to 26 in 2006.

Of those 16 sightings, 12 were inside of the boundaries for where Zone 1 is proposed. The other four cats were just outside of the zone.

Under the proposed mountain lion season, kittens with spots and females accompanied by kittens again will be off limits to hunters. Snares and traps may not be used, and successful hunters must notify NDGFDwithin 12 hours.

(Reach outdoor writer Richard Hinton at 250-8256 or richard.hinton@; 04/21/news/local/132270.txt

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