Nebraska officials: No mountain lion hunting in 2016

FAIRBURY, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska officials have determined there will be no mountain lion hunting season next year.

The news came Friday at a Nebraska Game and Parks Commission meeting in Fairbury, the Omaha World-Herald reported ( ).

The results of a research project on cougars in the state will determine whether biologists recommend a future hunting season for the big cat, said Sam Wilson, the commission’s carnivore program manager.

Nebraska’s first and only mountain lion-hunting season occurred in 2014, when hunters killed five cougars.

The commission decided not to permit hunting this year because of the high number of females killed in 2014. In addition to the five cougars killed by hunters, 11 others died from illegal hunting, traps and being hit by vehicles. Ten of the 16 killed were females.

Mountain lions are native to Nebraska, but were nearly wiped out from poisoning and hunting by early settlers. The cats have been making a comeback in the northwest corner of the state and have wandered as far east as Omaha.

The animals have also found a protector in the Nebraska Legislature. Sen. Ernie Chambers, of Omaha, unsuccessfully sought last year to repeal the commission’s authority to establish mountain lion hunting seasons. Chambers has vowed to fight any attempts to resume legal hunts of the big cats.

The research project has officials capturing cougars in baited cages. The cats are sedated and fitted with GPS collars or ear tags for kittens.

Biologists hope to track as many as 15 mountain lions in the Pine Ridge, Wildcat Hills and Niobrara River Valley during the four-year research project.

The most recent commission study indicated a population ranging from 16 to 37 mountain lions in the Pine Ridge area.

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