Thursday, January 28, 2010

Nebraska bills aimed at mountain lions, deer

Published Thursday January 28, 2010

Bills aimed at mountain lions, deer

By Martha Stoddard

LINCOLN — Nebraskans should be able to strike back at marauding wildlife, whether the threat be mountain lions or deer.

That was the message delivered Wednesday to the Natural Resources Committee at a hearing on a pair of legislative proposals.

One measure spells out when people could kill mountain lions in the state.

The other would encourage more deer hunting to reduce the state's growing herd.

Legislative Bill 836 would give landowners authority to hunt deer at any time of year — with no limit on number. Currently, regular deer hunting season is limited to fall and winter, with limits on the number of animals that can be killed.

The bill, introduced by State Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, also would require special hunting seasons to curb the deer population.

It would allow night hunting with spotlights and give tax credits to landowners who open their property to hunting.

Lautenbaugh said something needs to be done to address the state's exploding population of deer, which damage crops and create hazards for drivers.

“They aren't endangered,” he said. “We're endangered. Our crops are endangered. Our lives are endangered.”

Craig Bolz, who farms near Filley, said his son died in a deer-motorcycle accident in 1996.

At the time, the state's deer population was reported at 250,000. Now the figure is closer to 380,000, officials said.

Those testifying agreed that the deer population needs to be reduced. But there was little agreement about whether LB 836 was the way to accomplish that goal.

Joe Herrod of the Nebraska Council of Sportsmen's Clubs said the problem is too complex to be solved by just turning people loose with guns.

Nebraska and Iowa both have tried to reduce deer populations by encouraging hunters to kill more female deer and by giving special hunting permits to farmers with deer-damaged crops. The permits allow farmers to kill more deer than a typical hunter.

Legislative Bill 747 would allow farmers and ranchers to get permits to kill mountain lions preying on their livestock or poultry.

The permits would be good for 30 days and would be issued only if State Game and Parks officials confirmed that a lion had killed the livestock.

Introduced by Sen. LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth, the bill also would let landowners kill mountain lions immediately, without a permit, if the animals were in the act of stalking or attacking people or livestock.

The bill would clarify state law, which does not permit mountain lions to be killed. In practice, state officials have allowed the killing of mountain lions that endanger people or livestock.

Pete McClymont, a lobbyist for Nebraska Cattlemen, said the bill was needed to keep people from being punished for protecting themselves or their livestock.

He said the approach would encourage people to get away from the “3 S” plan — “shoot, shovel and shut up.”

Greg Lyons of the Feline Conservation Federation, which promotes the preservation of wild cat species, said he doesn't oppose the bill's purpose but also doesn't want Nebraska to lose its newly re-established mountain lion population.

“We don't want the killing to get out of hand,” he said.

The state's mountain lion population was wiped out in the 1800s. The next confirmed sighting was a century later, in 1991. There have been 93 confirmed sightings since then, including females and kittens in the Pine Ridge area.

No sighting has been confirmed in the Omaha metro area since 2005.

Iowa has no law governing mountain lions, which means the animals may be shot at any time. The shooting of a lion near Cedar Rapids last month sparked calls for protection of the animals.

The legislative committee took no immediate action Wednesday on either bill.

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