New data from the South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department indicates that mountain lions in the Black Hills region of the state killed as many deer last year as did hunters, raising concern among sportsmen and biologist alike.
Biologists estimate that mountain lions annually kill about 5,500 deer in the Black Hills, almost exactly the same number of animals taken by deer hunters there in the 2009 season.
In recent years, the Black Hills deer harvest by hunters has declined from 7,800 in 2007, to 7,000 in 2008, and down to 5,500 last year.
"It's absolutely true that lions are one of the main causes of deer mortality in the Black Hills," said GF&P regional game specialist John Kanta.
The Rapid City Journal reports that lion predation of deer is currently a point of serious discussion in South Dakota, as a series of public meetings on mountain lion management takes place across the state. The first of those meetings was held in Spearfish in late March, with more than 60 people attending to listen and comment.
Kanta told those in attendance that while lions feed on both elk and deer, they target deer in particular, making the impact on deer numbers more pronounced.
He estimated that each year Black Hills lions kill about 6,300 "large ungulates," which include elk, deer, bighorn sheep and mountain goats. But the vast majority of those large mammal kills include about 5,500 deer, followed by elk and a lesser number of bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
So far, the public response has been consistent, Kanta said last week.
"The majority of people have been saying they want fewer lions. In fact, we've had a few say no lions at all. They want them all to go away," he said. "We've also had a few people who spoke against the lion season and don't want them hunted. But I'd say the majority wants lions, but fewer of them."
The remaining three public input meetings are being held this week in Aberdeen, Winner and Pierre.