Sen. Ernie Chambers of Omaha is continuing his fight to ban mountain lion hunting seasons in Nebraska.LB 448, proposed by Chambers, is a bill intended to remove the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's authority to establish hunting seasons for mountain lions. He tried, and failed, to pass such legislation in 2014 and 2016.
"This is a bill that deals with an animal that I would describe as iconic, majestic, regal and the perfect predator," Chambers said.
LB 448 was brought to a hearing Thursday afternoon and Chambers had done his homework on the mountain lion. In his opening statement, which lasted nearly 30 minutes, he explained how the cats hunt, travel, interact with each other, and how they don't interact with people.
"No mountain lion has ever attacked a human being in Nebraska," Chambers said.
After his background on mountain lions, Chambers shifted his attention toward the hunters who target them. He said there are only about 15-22 mountain lions in the Pine Ridge area in northwestern Nebraska, where most of the mountain lions in the state live.
"You cannot sustain a population as small as that in Nebraska if you allow the hunting," Chambers said.
Sam Wilson, fur-bearer and carnivore manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said the number estimated in Pine Ridge is now 22-33 lions.
Wilson came to the hearing as an opponent to the bill, along with Tim McCoy, deputy director of Nebraska Game and Parks. McCoy said since Nebraska Game and Parks was commissioned in 1901, no species it has managed has become endangered.
"Our role has always been to try to conserve mountain lions," McCoy said.
McCoy said that with conservation, Nebraska Game and Parks can regulate the number of mountain lions in the state. He also said that conservation of Nebraska's natural resources by commission has come mainly through hunting and fishing licenses and permits.
The last hunting season for mountain lions was in 2014. McCoy said if low numbers maintain, there won't be another soon.
Proponents of Chambers' bill also came forward Thursday.
One proponent, Melissa Money-Beecher, was moved to tears while speaking against mountain lion hunting.
Money-Beecher said she thought most Nebraskans would not support killing the few mountain lions left in their state. She also said she was appalled by the way the mountain lions were killed in the hunting season in 2014.
"We are an advanced society and we need to stop teaching our young people that it's okay to kill for fun -- not food -- fun," Money-Beecher said.
Two more proponents agreed that hunting should only be for food. James Cavanaugh, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club of Nebraska, and Bill Hawkins of Beatrice both agreed that you eat what you hunt. They said there is no point in hunting mountain lions.
Chambers said his bill might not have a very good chance of passing, much like his last two, but he will keep fighting for it.