- Associated Press - Thursday, February 23, 2017

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska’s longest-serving senator is once again trying to outlaw mountain lion hunting, describing the animals Thursday as majestic and no threat to humans.

Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha argued in a committee hearing that lawmakers never should have approved a hunting season in 2012, when Chambers was briefly out of office because of term limits.

Mountain lions are native to Nebraska, but vanished in the late 1800s after settlers started poisoning and hunting them. Nebraska has four areas where mountain lion hunting is permitted. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission determines which areas can sustain hunting each session.

State officials have estimated that Nebraska has somewhere between 15 and 22 mountain lions, mostly in northwest Nebraska’s heavily wooded Pine Ridge district.

“You cannot sustain a population as small as that in Nebraska if you allow hunting,” Chambers said in testimony to the Legislature’s Natural Resources Committee.

Wildlife advocates noted that, unlike mountain lions, most hunted animals are considered a food source. Mountain lions generally steer clear of humans, said James Cavanaugh, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club of Nebraska.

“You can’t eat a mountain lion,” Cavanaugh said. “I don’t know anyone who’s ever said, ‘Mmm, mountain lion. Yum.’”

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and other opponents said the hunting season allows officials to regulate the population. Although the population is isolated, commission officials believe more mountain lions are moving into the Midwest from Wyoming, South Dakota and Wyoming, said Tim McCoy, the commission’s deputy director.

“We do feel like we have the expertise to manage mountain lions,” McCoy said.

The Game and Parks Commission has held only one mountain lion hunting season, in 2014, because a large number were killed that year outside of the season. Some were hunted illegally, trapped or struck by vehicles. McCoy said the commission has spent the last few years researching the mountain lion population.

In 2014, nearly 400 people applied for one of 100 available permits in the Pine Ridge district.

Chambers came close to passing similar legislation in 2014, but it was vetoed by former Gov. Dave Heineman.

Committee members took no immediate action on the bill.


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