State seeking input on mountain lion management

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Bring up the topic of mountain lions in Northwest Montana and it’s likely to evoke a range of comments and opinions, depending on who is doing the talking.

Deer and elk hunters, as well as pet owners, may have a much different outlook on one of the top predators in the region than perhaps an avid wildlife watcher.

To that end, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks is currently seeking public comment on a draft of a recently developed mountain lion management strategy.

According to information from the state agency, Jay Kolbe, the FWP biologist who wrote the strategy, has been presenting concepts and information to sportsmen’s groups, citizen advisory committees, houndsmen and others while developing the strategy.

It was first presented to the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission at its Oct. 17 meeting.

The public comment period is open until 5 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission will vote on the strategy at its meeting in February 2019.

The state said it wants to know where and how many lions Montanans want on the landscape, whether it’s more, fewer, or about the same number of lions that exist now. State officials are still reaching out to anyone with an interest in lion management – hunters, houndsmen, wildlife viewers, livestock producers and others – through various venues to include public meetings, social media and other ways.

Fish, Wildlife and Parks said it has made significant investments in field research that helps inform its lion management over the last 25 years. With this and research done in other states and provinces, it wants to use the latest science and state-of-the-art methods and tools to monitor Montana’s lion populations. Because wildlife officials know lion populations function in big landscapes, the approach includes defining four lion regions in Montana, including Regions 1 and 2, encompassing Northwest Montana from the Canadian border on the north, Idaho on the western border, just below Missoula on the south and Seeley Lake and Glacier National Park.

There are other lion regions that include West-Central and Southwest Montana. FWP said it will periodically develop estimates of mountain lion numbers within those regions using a genetically based field sampling method known as spatial capture-recapture, which uses game cameras to track the animals or collection of scat and hair. This is a relatively new but well-proven method for estimating populations. Combining those population estimates plus an understanding of lion ecology and lion harvest data, managers plan to integrate all the information to predict the effects of lion harvest on populations. Over time, this monitoring program will reduce uncertainty about the effects of lion harvest and improve FWP’s ability to meet management objectives.

The draft strategy does not lay out any population objectives or harvest recommendations, but only speaks to guidelines as to how the state agency will manage and monitor lions.

Currently, hunters seeking mountain lions can buy licenses over the counter. The fall season ends Nov. 25 with the winter hound season beginning Dec. 1 and ending April 14, 2019.

For more information, call the Wildlife Division office at 406-444-2612 or email at fwpwld@mt.gov.

Comments will be accepted: online by using any of the link below; in writing sent to PO Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701; and by email to fwpwld@mt.gov.

Reporter Scott Shindledecker may be reached at 406-758-4441 or sshindledecker@dailyinterlake.com.

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