Nebraska Game and Parks talks panhandle, state mountain lion info
GERING - The Wildcat Hills are one of the most unique areas in the country and state and they’re also home to one of Nebraska’s most elusive creatures: mountain lions.
Todd Nordeen of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission met with News Channel Nebraska to discuss the current state of Mountain Lion populations in the Wildcat’s.
“They’ve started to grow in population,” Nordeen said. “We’ve put it in a lot more work trying to get numbers and estimates on them and now we have established populations in the Pine Ridge in the northern panhandle, here at the Wildcat Hills, and clear to the Niobrara River near Valentine.”
The current exact population numbers are tough to estimate, with lions frequently moving to new areas. According to Nordeen, with the breeding pattern Mountain Lion's use, plus the abundance of male lions in the state, Nebraska has seen good breeding numbers.
“Mountain Lions can breed any time of year, so once they cycle in, there’s plenty of males out there and so they can have kittens just about anytime of year,” Nordeen said. “They usually have about 2-5 and we’ve got reproduction going on in those established breeding areas.”
Game and Parks does year-round research to gather information on population and where about’s of Nebraska’s lions. One method is trapping and tranquilizing lions in the winter and tracking them with a neck collar or a GPS, among using canines.
"That’s one big way we do it, but we also have the scat dog survey,” Nordeen said. “We actually have a trained dog and personnel and help us collect lion scat in the hills and we get DNA from that like with the lions we trap.”
According to Nordeen, Western Nebraska’s landscape is just about perfect for Mountain Lion's.
“It’s just super habitat,” Nordeen said. “You look at what we have out here in western Nebraska, the escarpments, the trees, the bluffs, a few river valleys… It’s just perfect for Mountain Lion.”
The Nebraska Mountain Lion population is now not limited to just the panhandle. Sightings and trail cam photos are regularly collected by those in the central and eastern parts of the state, even near some of Nebraska’s bigger cities. Mountain Lion’s have large territories, meaning they roam for miles, but Nordeen says it’s more than just territory.
“The young of 1-2 years do get forced out,” Nordeen said. “A lot of times, it’s just young dispersing males looking for a new home and new territories. That’s primarily what we see with some of these expansions and movements across the state.”