Wildcat Hills, Nebraska - The recent assembly at the Wildcat Hills Nature Center, comprising landowners and hunters, allowed for a thorough discussion on the big game status in Nebraska's Panhandle region. Officials from The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission imparted valuable information regarding two aspects: firstly - updates about the local mountain lion population; and secondly – prospects for upcoming hunting seasons. They also tackled various other critical wildlife management topics.
The program head for furbearers and carnivores at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Sam Wilson--a recognized expert in his field—took the stage: he discussed not only that mountain lions are native to Nebraska but also emphasized an urgent need. This need? To address concerns related specifically to the depredation of livestock by these indigenous species of mountain lions. With this recognition in place, a call was issued; farmers—key actors in mitigating these conflicts—were strongly encouraged: to report any instances of depredation promptly–directly to authorities.
Additionally, Wilson emphasized the importance of conserving these species in their native ecosystems: currently, Nebraska harbors three distinct populations of mountain lions. A group makes its home within the Pine Ridge area; another resides in the Niobrara River Valley--and a third population dwells among the Wildcat Hills.
The agency provided hunters with essential information on mountain lion hunting tags and seasons. Hunters can seize the opportunity to purchase these specific tags for Pine Ridge region lion hunts. Moreover, commencing January 2, 2024; available hunting tags will extend their reach into Niobrara River Valley expeditions. To ensure the preservation of the mountain lion population, we meticulously control the availability of tags.
The forthcoming survey of the Wildcat Hills' mountain lion population is a significant development under discussion. Presently, researchers track six mountain lions--a group predominantly composed of five females and one male--through radio collars. The primary goal behind this survey is to furnish an accurate estimate of population size; furthermore, it could potentially pave the way for introducing hunting season in the Wildcat Hills. In decision-making, we pivot around social tolerance: it's the pivotal factor that takes into account residents' perspectives and sentiments.
After an absence of nearly a century, mountain lions gradually returned to Nebraska in the 1990s. Yet, their resurgence does not garner a unanimous positive perception among all residents. Local rancher Paula Brown voiced her apprehension about the burgeoning population of these wild cats in Wildcat Hills. Citing safety concerns, she underscored the necessity of a hunting season: it served to safeguard not only residents but also their livestock.
Extending the discussion, Game and Parks officials included hunting seasons for other significant game animals such as mule deer, elk, and bighorn sheep. They noted that while we are approaching our established goals in terms of elk harvests; however, there has been a decline observed in both whitetail and mule deer populations. We have already set plans in motion to address these declines actively--our aim is not just halting but reversing this downward trend by rebuilding these vital populations.
Furthermore, specialists actively monitor chronic wasting disease in mule deer and other cervids. They make rigorous efforts to capture and collar around 80 mule deer for detailed population studies.
A teenager from Sidney harvested a ram in the Pine Ridge area during an encouraging bighorn sheep season. The success underscores this: a feasibility study for a wildlife crossing at Wildcat Hills, aimed to protect its bighorn sheep population, will begin next year.
The Panhandle region of Nebraska showcases discussions that embody an intricate balance: conservation, wildlife management, and residents' concerns. Diligently working to tackle these multifaceted challenges are wildlife officials; they strive not only for human-wildlife coexistence in the area but also for its sustainability.