Still learning about the lions

Over the course of the last three years, there have been three mountain lion seasons held in North Dakota, and each year they've looked a little differently.

Over the course of the last three years, there have been three mountain lion seasons held in North Dakota, and each year they've looked a little differently.

Randy Kreil, the Wildlife Division chief for the North Dakota Game and Fish said that the differences just goes to show how their understanding of mountain lions, or Puma concolor, has evolved since the institution of a yearly season.

And that evolution was exactly what the Game and Fish expected.

"We felt having a season and actually being able to examine and study the animals that were taken would help us manage the lions better in the future," Kreil said. "And that proved to be true."

The season, which was instituted by the state legislature in 2005, allowed hunters the opportunity to hunt the mountain lions in the southwestern part of the state for the first time.


Something that the Game and Fish officials didn't foresee was, come the 2006 season, that the hunters taking advantage of those opportunities would be in the eastern part of the state.

This led to the season's second of two major adjustments in its third year.

The 2007 season broke the state up into two zones. Zone one, which includes all the land from the border to Highway and then wrapping around up to Williston and zone two, which encompasses the rest of the state.

"Each year we consider all the different components of the mountain lion season," Kreil said. "Including whether we need to adjust the quota or not. This year we guaranteed the harvest in the Badlands."

The Game and Fish authorized a limit of five lions to be taken in zone one and an unlimited amount to be taken in zone two.

Even with no limit in zone two there has only been one recorded opportunity to actually harvest a mountain lion in the 2007-2008 season, which concludes March 9.

Kreil pointed out that, as a result of this year's findings, the 2006 season's results may turn out to be an aberration and is just another reason to continue the studies that accompany the season.

In its first year, 2005, hunters were given their first opportunity to take a mountain lion.


Changes have been made to the season each year following that initial season, as the Game and Fish Department gains a greater understanding of the management strategies that are necessary in regards to the animal.

"Each year that we've had one of these seasons we've learned from that season and made adjustments," Kreil said.

In 2005, any mountain lion that was killed in the state counted towards the total number that was able to be taken in North Dakota, five.

That included lions that were harvested in order to protect livestock, for the purpose of self defense or those accidentally taken while attempting to trap other animals, such as bobcats.

The Game and Fish utilized the findings they came across following the first season and made what they saw as necessary adjustments the next year.

During the 2006 season the major tweak that the Game and Fish made to the season was that only those lions taken by hunters would count towards the statewide limit of five.

This allowed for hunters to have the opportunity to hunt cougars, as well as landowners and the public to protect themselves, something people had raised concerns about.

"People have the ability to protect themselves, and that's in state law," Kreil said. "There are built-in safety features for people."


If a lion is taken to prevent an attack on wildlife or to protect human life an investigation takes place to verify that claim.

Kreil said that the Game and Fish has investigated several incidents and all of those situations have turned out to be legitimate cases.

The mountain lion season in North Dakota continues to evolve according to the findings that the Department comes across each year and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, according to Kreil.

That constant evolution is important to the future success of the season and further educating themselves and the public in regards to mountain lions.

"The first year we proposed it, we took a lot of criticism from people for being too aggressive and took a lot of flack for not knowing enough about the population to justify a season," Kreil said. "We felt having a season and actually being able to examine and study the animals that were taken, would help us manage lions better in the future and that proved to be true."

The knowledge that the Game and Fish has gained as a result of the regular seasons is head and shoulders above what they had before, according to Kreil.

Studies conducted by the Game and Fish, which at one time simply consisted of the location of a dead animal and it's weight, has evolved into a detailed study of the lion's age, sex, reproductive history, digestive habits, as well as DNA information.

As a result of the DNA analysis the Game and Fish has come across some interesting findings.


"Some of the most interesting information is DNA information," Kreil said. "One thing we have learned is that many of them have been originating in South Dakota."

The link with South Dakota's mountain lion population, which is currently booming in the Black Hills region, comes from DNA analysis that matches up two mountain lions, taken in Dawson and New Salem, with lions taken in South Dakota.

Samples were similar enough for researchers to conclude that the animals were related.

Kreil said that because the Black Hills population is expanding there is a very good chance that those animals could come here.

Male mountain lions have a home range of around 300-400 miles and females have a smaller home range, but it is still very large.

Communication between interstate Game and Fish Departments is important as a result of that large home range.

"They (South Dakota) have a very extensive management plan and we get together each year to discuss our plans," Kreil said. "What happens in South Dakota affects what happens here...wildlife doesn't acknowledge geopolitical boundaries."

One example that Kreil pointed to was a young male mountain lion that was collared in the northern Black Hills in 2006.


Later in the year the North Dakota Game and Fish received a call from someone near Turtle River State Park near Grand Forks reporting a mountain lion sighting. The mountain lion just happened to have a collar.

A call to the South Dakota Game and Fish office, and a trace of the collar's radio signal confirmed that the animal had traveled from the Black Hills to northeastern North Dakota in three months. It then traveled into Minnesota and up into Manitoba.

It's all part of the learning process according to Kreil.

"Each year since we've instituted the season we've received criticism for being too aggressive or not aggressive enough," Kreil said. "And that's ok; we value that kind of feedback."

The particulars of the next mountain lion season will not be laid out until July when the small game and furbearers proclamation is decided on by the Game and Fish.

If the short history of the season is any indication though, there will most likely be a minor tweak here or there.

"You ask us these questions in ten years and we're going to have a much better idea of what's going on with our mountain lion population," Kreil said. "That's where it's important to learn from season to season.

What To Read Next
Get Local