Update 3-28-2014: Governor Dave Heinemen vetoed LB 671, the bill that would outlaw mountain lion hunting in the state. The bill now heads back to lawmakers, who need at least 30 votes to override the governor’s decision. In a letter addressed to the legislature, Heinemen expressed concern that the bill violated the state constitution by eliminating hunting as a tool in wildlife management.
Nebraska’s first mountain lion hunting season could also be the state’s last, as a bill to halt the hunt is currently headed to the desk of Governor Dave Heineman. According to KETV, state senators voted 28-13 to pass Legislative Bill 671 on Monday, which will ban mountain lion hunting in the state. The bill lacked the necessary votes to pass with an emergency clause, which allows it to take effect as soon as it is signed by Governor Heineman or through a legislative override.
Mountain lions are a recent newcomer to Nebraska. Although the large cat is considered a part of the state’s native wildlife, cougars had been extirpated until the early 1990s, when a hunter made the first confirmed sighting since the 19th century. Wildlife officials report that a population of mountain lions recently colonized the Pine Ridge and Niobara River Valley regions in northwestern Nebraska. While experts say it is unlikely that the species will ever become established in urban areas, it is likely that the cats will become more widespread in the future. The most commonly spotted mountain lions are transient males in search of a mate.
Nebraska lawmakers voted in 2012 to give the state’s Game and Parks Commission the authority to open a hunting season. The Omaha World-Herald reported that hunters have harvested three cougars so far in the inaugural 2014 season. Two additional cats were also taken by trappers.
Legislative Bill 671 was introduced by Senator Ernie Chambers (D-Omaha), who was out of office in 2012 due to term limits. Chambers is the longest-serving state senator in the history of Nebraska, but not entirely without controversy. In 2007, Chambers drew media attention when he filed a lawsuit against God. Opponents of the bill say that the management of the state’s mountain lions should be left to the Game and Parks Commission.
“There’s a lot more at stake here than a hunting season on mountain lions, or cougars, or any other name you want to put to them,” Senator Beau McCoy (R-Omaha) told the Journal-Star.
Legislative Bill 671 does not affect a policy that allows landowners to shoot cougars if they threaten people or livestock. The bill will go into effect in July if signed by Governor Heineman.
Image courtesy Nebraska Game and Parks Commission