Mountain lions historically inhabited most of North Dakota, but were extirpated by the beginning of the 20th century. Today, there is a small population of cougars confined to a limited portion of the western part of the state. In 2005, North Dakota implemented a limited hunting season with an initial quota of 5 cats. In recent years, quotas have been raised to 21 in the western zone (outside of this small zone, there is a season with no quota).
A multi-year research study completed in 2014 by North Dakota Game and Fish and South Dakota State University found that ND’s small population of cougars is declining, and that immigration from nearby populations in Montana and South Dakota is important to sustaining genetic diversity. The study also concluded that predation on livestock was “minimal.”
The North Dakota Game and Fish Department administers a mountain lion hunting season in two geographical zones of the state. Zone 1 – the western portion of the state, which NDGFD believes contains most of the state’s cougars – has an annual quota of 21 cats, with no female subquota. Hounds may be used in Zone 1’s late season. Zone 2, which comprises a large majority of the state, is open to hunting with hounds but has no quota.
In the 2013-2014 hunting season, 17 cougars were killed, 13 of which were females. In addition, NDGFD reported a minimum of 14 other cougar mortalities.
According to a recent study conducted by NDGFD and South Dakota State University, cougar populations in the state are declining.