Cougars were extirpated from Nebraska around the turn of the 20th century. The first confirmed reappearance of lions in the state occurred in 1991. Since that time, there have been over 100 confirmed sightings.
In April of 2012, Nebraska passed Legislative Bill 928 which allows the sport hunting of cougars. The bill was introduced in response to increased sightings of cougars in the state. In 2013, the state’s first cougar hunt was unanimously approved by the Game and Parks Commission. The cougar population in Nebraska is estimated to be fewer than 60, with Nebraska Game and Parks estimating between 15 – 22 cats in a confirmed breeding population in the northwest portion of the state.
During the 2013-2014 season, hunters killed 5 cougars, 2 of which were females. Another 11 cats were killed outside of the hunt season, with causes ranging from incidental trapping to livestock protection.
On January 15, 2015, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission decided against holding a 2015 hunting season, citing the need for more research and information. In February 2015, Game and Parks began a multi-year study to better understand cat populations and distribution within the state.
Residents may apply for (a cost of $15) the one permit available for the first hunt season- January 1-February 14 in the Pine Ridge Unit in Northwest Nebraska. One more permit for the first season will be auctioned, the proceeds of which will be donated to the Commission for mountain lion conservation, management and research. The quota for the first season is two male mountain lions or one female.
The second season begins February 15 and ends March 31. 100 hunters will receive permits by lottery for the second season in the Pine Ridge Unit with a quota of two males or one female.
Beginning on January 1 permits (a cost of $15) will be sold for the Prairie Unit which covers about 85 percent of the state. The Prairie Unit is open all year with an unlimited quota.