Friday, February 26, 2016

Chambers makes pitch for cougar hunting bill, with low expectations

  • By JoANNE YOUNG / Lincoln Journal Star
  • 02.26.2016

Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers told members of the Nebraska Legislature's Natural Resources Committee Thursday that he is a realist.

He knew they were not going to send his bill (LB961) to the full Legislature for debate, he said, because they already killed basically the same bill that he introduced in 2015 and was carried over.
"I face reality and I know (what) the reality for this bill is in this committee," he said.

The bill, which has no priority designation, would terminate the authority of the state Game and Parks Commission to establish hunting seasons for mountain lions. There was a hunting season in 2014. There has not been one since.

Chambers was particularly incensed that in one of the lottery hunts in 2014 the hunter was allowed to use dogs to tree a mountain lion and then kill it. That, he said, was immoral, vicious and abusive.
Chambers said that in terms of mountain lions being a threat to livestock, more of those -- sheep, goats and calves -- are taken by federally protected eagles than mountain lions in the state.

Patricia Fuller, who supported the bill, said the safety of people and livestock is best ensured by education, conflict prevention and emergency response plans that target problem cats.

"Random culling via sport hunting will not make Nebraskans safer," Fuller said.

Human tolerance for the lions is a major issue for conservation and is what's at issue, she said.
"Globally we are losing our large carnivores and ironically they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects," she said.

Scientific research has shown that healthy cougar populations help maintain healthy landscapes. They play an important role in ecosystems, she said.

Melissa Money Beecher said she appeared before the committee to represent normal citizens who feel that killing the very few mountain lions in the state is wrong.

"It just appalls me that we are at a point that we think killing for fun is something that should be done, that people are getting pleasure from killing mountain lions for fun," she said.

Tim McCoy, Nebraska Game and Parks deputy director, opposed the bill. The goal of the agency is to maintain the population in the long run, he said.

No game species Game and Parks has managed has become endangered, he said. Hunting plays a role in conservation because it provides a lot of the funding support, he said.

The agency is in a three-year research project studying mountain lion populations in the state. McCoy said he expects new estimates to show the population is larger than previous estimates.

Two main goals of the study are to find out what the big cats are hunting and where the populations are. The cost for a study of mountain lion scat is about $30,000, he said. Collaring mountain lions costs about $60,000 a year.

The agency has put GPS collars on nine cats, seven of which are females. That will allow the agency to refine the habitat estimates. Six kittens have ear tags.


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