The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Wednesday adopted quotas for hunting mountain lions during the upcoming season, including an effort to decrease populations by 12.5% across a swath of northwest Montana.
Earlier this year, the commission adopted significant changes to mountain lion regulations. Hunters may apply for either a limited permit for an area allowing hunting for the entirety of the season, or an unlimited regional permit that will be hunted on a quota.
Previously seasons varied by region, with northwest Montana’s Region 1 managed by special permit; west-central’s Region 2 managed by a hybrid of special permit followed by a quota hunt for any lions not killed by permit hunters; and the remainder of the state under a quota system.
With the commission’s adoption of new season structures in place, that left Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks with the task of proposing quotas.
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“Our overall intent in our approach in recommending the quotas this year is largely to try to retain the harvest we’ve had in recent history,” Brian Wakeling, FWP’s game management bureau chief, told the commission.
The exception, Wakeling said, is in northwestern Montana. Under a new management plan, the department convened its first working group in March to make recommendations on management goals and quotas. In coming years working groups will be formed to make similar recommendations in other parts of the state.
The group focused on northwest Montana’s ecosystem, covering Region 1 and a portion of Region 2, with an estimated lion population of about 1,400 — a number the group’s report acknowledges carries some uncertainty and notes populations are variable across the area. FWP estimates populations using modeling through a combination of hunter harvest, information from past studies and capture-recapture programs to estimate lion density. Density is then compared relative to habitat quality.
The report’s fundamental objectives call for management that minimizes “excessive” ungulate predation, assists recruitment of struggling ungulate populations, maintains healthy lion populations and satisfies hunters and non-hunters. The group’s recommendation calls for a 12.5% decrease in lion populations with an emphasis on some focal areas identified for “struggling ungulates or reduction in urban lion conflicts.”
“Based on our efforts through modeling and the population estimation procedures that we use, we’ve formulated recommendations to try to achieve that objective,” Wakeling said. “So it’s not a 12 to 13% increase in quota; what it’s trying to do is increase the quota, increase the harvest, so it will achieve that objective for the 5- to 6-year lifespan (of the plan).”
For all of Regions 1 and 2 FWP puts its harvest target at about 350 mountain lions. Wakeling pointed out that many areas currently typically do not meet quotas due to remote backcountry or other factors limiting access. The recent average harvest for the combined regions is about 250 cats.
Mac Minard with the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association testified in support of the measure as a final piece after the season structure changes.
Opponents expressed concerns over how FWP tracks mountain lion mortality and emphasized the importance of large carnivores in the ecosystem. KC York, with Trap Free Montana, said mountain lions killed through incidental trapping should count against quotas. The animals may only be taken legally through hunting.
The commission passed the quotas unanimously.
Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.