Commissioners Approve Mountain Lion, River Otter Seasons

LINCOLN, Neb. – The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission approved a 2021 river otter harvest season and a 2022 mountain lion hunting season at its June 11 meeting in Chadron.

The Nebraska River Otter Management Plan was adopted by the Commission. The goal of the plan is to maintain resilient, healthy and socially acceptable river otter populations that are in balance with available habitat and other wildlife species.

Otters, at one time on the state Endangered List and then the Threatened List, were delisted in 2020 after years of research showed otter populations had grown and expanded to nearly statewide distribution. The current population is estimated to be more than 2,200. The reintroduction and recovery of river otters is one of the greatest examples of conservation success in Nebraska over the past 40 years.

Changes to Commission orders and regulations were approved to implement a harvest season that will allow the trapping of river otters, which are classified by state statute as a fur-bearing animal. The season will be Nov. 1, 2021, through Feb. 28, 2022, or close earlier once 75 otters have been harvested.

The Commission also approved a mountain lion season in the Pine Ridge Unit. The season dates are similar and the harvest quota will be identical to 2021, with a maximum harvest of four mountain lions or a sublimit of two female lions. The Season 1 Pine Ridge Unit dates will be Jan. 2-Feb. 28, 2022, and if necessary, an Auxiliary Season will be March 12-31, 2022. There will be 320 permits issued via lottery only to Nebraskans.

The objective is to allow a harvest opportunity for mountain lions that allows the population to remain resilient and healthy while limiting future growth or moderately reducing numbers.

Commissioners approved:

• changes that allow the Game and Parks to manage public recreation on 234 acres of land owned by Pheasants Forever, Inc. which is adjacent to Commission-owned Jack Sinn Wildlife Management Area in Lancaster County. These additional acres will be open to public access and follow the same regulations as the adjacent WMA.

• changes to sport fishing regulations regarding the application and purchase of paddlefish preference points and where a paddlefish permit is valid.

• changes that added DeFair Lake WMA in Grant County to the list of water bodies where it is illegal to possess or use live baitfish while fishing.

• changes to wildlife regulations that currently prohibit the possession of a firearm while archery and muzzleloader hunting. This change would allow these big game hunters to lawfully carry a handgun with a barrel of no longer than 5 inches.

• changes to clarify hunting restrictions pertaining to the use of bait for big game and turkey.

• changes to establish and implement special depredation seasons for deer, antelope and elk.

The Commission ratified the Operating and Capital Improvement budgets for fiscal years 2021-2022 and 2022-2023.

The Commission also formed a search committee for the Commission’s director position, which will become vacant when Jim Douglas retires in November.

Helmsley Charitable Trust Grant Funds Life-Saving Tech For Game And Parks

LINCOLN, Neb. — Every Nebraska Game and Parks Commission conservation officer, as well as its parks facilities, is now equipped with the next generation of automated external defibrillators thanks to The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust.

In an ongoing effort to improve the cardiac system of care in the Upper Midwest, the Trust awarded a grant of $6.4 million to equip every law enforcement agency with the equipment; Game and Parks received 119 of the new AEDs. The grant, facilitated through the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public health, also provided training.

Studies conducted by the American Heart Association demonstrate a dramatically higher survival rate for cardiac patients shocked by law enforcement, who are generally first on the scene, especially in rural areas. The AEDs selected feature technology conducive to the highly mobile and challenging environment of a patrol vehicle.

For example, the AEDs help ensure rescuers provide the fastest first shock when defibrillation is needed. The devices feature industry-leading analysis technology that reduces pauses during CPR, allowing for improved blood circulation and better odds of survival.

Using Wi-Fi connectivity, these self-monitoring devices also can send near real-time event data, including a patient’s heart rhythm and delivered shocks, to incoming emergency services or receiving hospitals, thus allowing for post-event evaluation to improve care delivery.

Game and Parks conservation officers and parks staff were trained on the new devices in late May, and vehicles and parks’ facilities have been outfitted with the new devices.

AEDs previously used by some agencies will be relocated throughout communities, increasing the number of AEDs accessible to the public.

To date, the Helmsley Charitable Trust has invested more than $500 million to improve access to quality healthcare in rural America, $72 million of that in Nebraska.

Landowners Have Until June 23 To Enroll In Open Fields And Waters

LINCOLN, Neb. – Private landowners have until June 23 to enroll their land in Open Fields and Waters, a voluntary program in which they can earn additional income for allowing walk-in hunting, trapping and/or fishing access on their properties.

Landowners earn annual, per-acre payments of up to $15, depending on habitat type and location. Additional financial incentives may be available for habitat improvements on enrolled acres.

Game and Parks is seeking to add Conservation Reserve Program, or CRP, fields; Wetland Reserve Program easements; grasslands; woodlands; and fishing access. All properties offering high-quality hunting or fishing opportunities will be considered.

Participating landowners are afforded liability protection through the Nebraska Recreational Liability Act. Game and Parks regularly patrols properties and marks boundaries with Open Fields and Waters signs.

Private landowners interested in enrolling should contact a biologist at their nearest Game and Parks district office or service center; find contact information at OutdoorNebraska.org/Locations.

Enrolled properties appear in the Nebraska Public Access Atlas, available at OutdoorNebraska.org/PublicAccessAtlas. For more information about the program, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/OFW.

Since 2016, more than 138,000 acres have been added to Open Fields and Waters, and current statewide enrollment is at an all-time high. More than 850 private landowners participated in the program in 2020-21, and provided walk-in hunting and fishing opportunities across 372,000-plus land acres, more than 500 acres of ponds and lakes and more than 45 stream miles.

In 2020, Game and Parks received a three-year, Voluntary Public Access – Habitat Improvement Program grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This grant provides $1 million per year and will allow for the continued expansion of this program over the next few years.

Game and Parks developed Open Fields and Waters in 2009 in an effort to increase public access opportunities on private lands. Nebraska is more than 97 percent privately owned, and obtaining access to private lands continues to be one of the major challenges facing hunters, anglers, and outdoor users.

Ponca State Park To Host Second Annual International Mud Day

LINCOLN, Neb. — Get ready to get downright dirty at the second annual International Mud Day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. June 26 at Ponca State Park in northeast Nebraska.

Participate in the mud obstacle course, mud slide and mud play area; paint with mud; make pollinator mud balls — and, of course, make a mud pie.

Temporary wash stations will be setup for quick cleanup before heading home or back to a campsite.

International Mud Day is celebrated around the world each year in June in an effort celebrate nature, get outside — and get really muddy.

The theme for the Ponca event is “The Mud Washes Off, but the Memories Remain”.

For more information, visit calendar.outdoornebraska.gov.

Find 100 Birds During Nebraska Parks Centennial Year

LINCOLN, Neb. — In honor of 100 years of state parks, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission is calling on birders to find and identify 100 bird species in its park areas by the end of 2021.

Birders of all experience levels are invited to visit Game and Parks’ state parks, state recreation areas, state historical parks or wildlife management areas to spot birds and log them using eBird or iNaturalist. Both are available online or via mobile app.

Once completed, participants should email their bird list from iNaturalist or ebird to ngpc.wildcat.hills@nebraska.gov. Birds already recorded during May’s Nebraska Bird Month will count toward the Centennial Bird Challenge.

Every participant who submits a qualifying checklist will receive a participation packet and be entered into a raffle drawing for prizes.

To find a list of parks perfect for wildlife watching opportunities, visit OutdoorNebraska.org/BirdingByParkAreas. Find bird identification resources at BirdsOfNebraska.org.

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