- Associated Press - Friday, March 28, 2014

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Gov. Dave Heineman vetoed a bill Friday that would outlaw mountain lion hunting in Nebraska, saying the state agency that regulates hunting should have the power to manage the animal’s population. He also expressed concern that the bill could be unconstitutional.

Nebraska approved its mountain lion hunting season in 2012, with then-unanimous support in the Legislature.

“Nebraskans expect responsible wildlife management,” Heineman said in a letter to lawmakers. The bill “eliminates an important tool used to accomplish it. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission should retain the ability to determine those management actions which are necessary to protect both the health and safety of our citizens and the wildlife in our state. Removing the agency’s authority to manage mountain lions through hunting at this time is a poor public policy.”

Heineman said he also was concerned that the bill could run afoul of a recent statewide vote that placed hunting, fishing and trapping rights in the Nebraska constitution.

The amendment, approved by voters in 2012, is new enough that its reach hasn’t been tested in court. But Heineman noted that it established hunting as the “preferred means” of wildlife management.

“Even if (the bill) is not unconstitutional, it fails to respect the will of Nebraska’s citizens on this issue,” Heineman said.

The bill to end the season was introduced by Sen. Ernie Chambers. Chambers, of Omaha, has argued that animals pose no real threat to humans - and if they did, state law already allows people to kill them to defend themselves or their property.

Supporters need at least 30 votes to override the governor’s veto, but it’s unclear whether they have enough. Lawmakers approved the repeal measure on Monday with a 28-13 vote, with seven senators who abstained from voting. During a first-round vote on the same bill in February, lawmakers voted 31-5 in its favor.

Chambers said Friday that he will file a motion to override the veto, though he doesn’t know whether he has the votes. The estimated number of mountain lions in Nebraska is so small, he said, that state officials could easily manage the population themselves without help from sport hunters.

Mountain lions are native to Nebraska, but vanished in the late 1800s after settlers started poisoning and hunting them. The first modern-day sighting was in 1991. Chambers argued that, since that time, no one in Nebraska has been attacked.

“Game and Parks is not operating from the standpoint of sound science and wildlife management principles,” Chambers said. “They could easily manage what few lions there are.”

This year’s season 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.


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