SD biologist fired after mountain lion kill

Posted March 09, 2012, at 2:09 p.m.

RAPID CITY, S.D. — The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Department has fired a big game biologist who waited almost a day to report a mountain lion kill that would have ended the hunting season.

The lion shot by Lowell Schmitz of Rapid City on Feb. 29 would have been the 70th of the season had he checked it in that day, prompting an automatic season closure. Schmitz waited until the next day to report the kill, and three more lions ended up being killed March 1.

Game, Fish and Parks Secretary Jeff Vonk confirmed Schmitz’s firing to the Rapid City Journal but declined to elaborate. Schmitz did not immediately return telephone calls to the Journal or to The Associated Press.

Schmitz did not violate regulations — hunters have a one-day reporting grace period. Schmitz said last week that he was delayed in reporting by parental duties and a migraine headache.

The three lions that were killed over the state-set limit of 70 also were deemed legal kills.

However, Schmitz’s reporting delay was criticized by mountain lion advocates, including Custer veterinarian Sharon Seneczko, founder of the Black Hills Mountain Lion Foundation.

“It would have been so easy to call that in,” she said.

Seneczko said state officials should reconsider regulations on what is expected of lion hunters when the quota is close to being reached.

The grace period is in place because many hunters are in remote areas of the Black Hills.

“We’re not saying you have to walk to the highest peak or anything,” Seneczko said. “All we’re saying is when you do get cellphone service, you should be able to call that in.”

Tony Leif, Game Fish and Parks Wildlife Division director, said the agency provides a number of ways for hunters to keep track of the quota. The status is updated as quickly as possible on the agency website. There is a toll-free phone number to call for updates. Hunters also can get updates on their cellphones.

“Our goal is to try to use every possible communication means there is to make sure hunters know what the status of the season is and, most importantly, when the season is over,” Leif said. “I can tell you this, we will step back and talk about our reporting system and the requirements we put on hunters. After two years of exceeding the harvest limit, it’s a topic worth discussion.”

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