LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Mountain lions in Nebraska could once again be off-limits to hunters if a bill passed by state senators on Monday becomes law.
Lawmakers gave final approval to a bill that would permanently end the state’s mountain lion hunting season just two years after it was approved. The 28-13 vote came a few days after opponents mounted a last-minute filibuster to try to block it.
The bill now heads to Gov. Dave Heineman, who has up to five days to act on the bill. Jen Rae Wang, the governor’s communications director, declined to say Monday what action Heineman might take.
Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha introduced the bill because he said the state has a duty to protect mountain lions, which are native to Nebraska but were virtually wiped out by settlers. Opponents argued that wildlife experts with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission should have the freedom to manage the population.
Supporters fell short of the 33 votes needed to pass the bill with an emergency clause, which would put it into effect as soon as Heineman signs it or his veto is overridden. They also didn’t meet the 30-vote minimum that would be needed to override a veto. Seven senators abstained from voting.
Opponents argued the bill could open the door to national animal welfare groups that want to push for new hunting restrictions on other animals.
“I think that’s a very slippery slope for us to be heading down,” said Sen. Beau McCoy, of Omaha.
The measure includes exceptions for farmers and ranchers if mountain lions threaten their property, and would allow people to defend themselves if attacked. Chambers has said such scenarios are unlikely, because the animals pose no real threat to humans.
The state approved mountain lion hunting in 2012, while Chambers was briefly out of office because of term limits. Nebraska has four areas where mountain lion hunting is permitted, and the commission determines which areas can sustain hunting each session.
This year’s session was broken into two parts, which end when two males or one female are killed. The first ended in January, when hunters killed two male mountain lions in the Pine Ridge area, in northwest Nebraska. The second was stopped in February, after a hunter killed a 102-pound female mountain lion in Sheridan County.
Game and Parks officials estimate that 22 mountain lions live in the Pine Ridge area, where 102 hunting permits were issued.
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