State houndsman works to keep Black Hills safe from lions

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CUSTER STATE PARK, S.D. (KEVN TV) -- When a mountain lion behaves dangerously state wildlife officials sometimes have to call in the hounds.

Or, more specifically, the state houndsman, Jack Alexander.

Alexander has been on the job with his dogs for 29 years.

In the early part of his career he chased a lot of varmints.

"We do a lot of coyote work," he said Thursday on a training outing with his hounds. "And beaver at times when they're cutting trees or plugging culverts."

But by the early 2000's his work load switched to include a greater focus on lions.

His hounds are responsible for tracking the big cats when they threaten the populace.

"When they start coming into town, of course, it's a smorgasbord of free stuff," he said referring to garbage and even pets that the cats prey on. "And then they start getting habituated to being in town and that kind of causes a public threat. We don't have a very strong tolerance of lions coming into town. So we try to remove them."

Which Alexander had to do earlier this month in Deadwood.

"A lion come into town," he said. "It was a sub adult male."

He was spotted hauling a deer carcass along a pedestrian walkway. Alexander's dogs treed him on the hill across the creek from the new Deadwood Welcome Center.

The lion population in the hills declined -- as did Alexanders calls -- after officials introduced a hunting season in 2005. It then plateaued.

"We use five or six different indices to monitor what our (population) trend is over time," said Trenton Haffley with the state Game, Fish and Parks Department. "The last three or four years we've probably been in a stable trend."

But there is indication the lions might be making a comeback.

"Maybe this last year we've seen a slight uptick," said Haffley. "Whether that's an overall upward trend we'll have t see over the next year or two."

But in any case, the state houndsman will be ready with his hounds.