Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks held a public meeting to discuss mountain lion trends, management and quotas for the 2017 hunting season in region three, which encompasses Madison County.
Vanna Boccadori with FWP said a majority of the meeting centered around a draft mountain lion conservation strategy, which has been 18 months in the making.
“That was the majority of the meeting – just explaining the body of that plan and what it looks like and what our conservation strategy might be,” Boccadori said.
Jay Kolbe, wildlife biologist out of White Sulphur Springs, has been the main contributor for the draft mountain lion conservation plan and said the it introduces new techniques to help track lion trends and monitor lion populations.
“The core purpose of the strategy is to describe the use of new techniques that we have to better monitor populations and form predictions of what a given hunting season might look like,” Kolbe said.
The plan introduces new methods and sampling date to determine more accurate population counts.
“That, historically, has been the largest challenge to mountain lion management – the inability to track,” Kolbe said. “They’re hard to count and for the first time we’ve got the tools we need.”
The draft plan includes new habitat maps, mathematical models and genetic sampling through hair, scat and biopsy darts that will allow not only tracking habitat and population trends but also male to female ratios in the regions and throughout the state. Kolbe said the department hopes to have the draft out for public review this spring before taking a final draft to the commission sometime this summer.
“I think the certainty is the most exciting part,” Kolbe said. “Lion hunters and houndsman are passionate about lions and they’re really the strongest and most affective advocacy. This will allow us to make better and more informed decisions about managing the species.”
Kolbe added predator management will always have those who disagree – the department will continue to utilize different partners and the public for help in decision making.
Mountain lions and humans
Residents in the Shining Mountains subdivision south of Ennis reported a mountain lion in the area earlier this year that attacked a resident’s pet. Though human and mountain lion contact is rare, Kolbe said it is still something to take very seriously.
“There are thousands of lions in the state and, in Montana, we have only had one fatality attributed to a mountain lion since we have been keeping records,” he said. “But it’s still something we take very seriously and have fairly detailed set of guidelines that directs staff on how to respond to conflicts – those (guidelines) have been fairly effective in keeping those types of conflicts away.”
Kolbe said FWP does not translocate mountain lions because of ineffectiveness and the likelihood of the animal re-offending. Instead, they attempt to keep lions from becoming attracted to populous areas or developments by legally hazing cats that begin to show certain behaviors.
“If, after that, a lion crosses the line and begins to become a threat, we remove it.”
Mountain lions and livestock
Generally, throughout a given year, the state sees between 100 and 140 cases of confirmed domestic livestock loss attributed to lions with the vast majority being smaller livestock, such as sheep and goats.
“There is an impact but it’s not that large when you consider the amount of livestock on the land,” said Kolbe. “It’s not usually as dramatic as some folks might assume.”
Up until this year, the Livestock Loss Board has not reimbursed producers who lose livestock to mountain lions but that has now changed, thanks to House Bill 286.
HB 286, which was sponsored by Rep. Ray Shaw, R – Sheridan, passed through both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Bullock on March 20.