FWP considers mountain lion study

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Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks wants to get a better handle on how many mountain lions live in the state and they hope to conduct a study that may answer some of those questions.

Kalispell’s Region 1 office hosted a meeting last week that attracted nearly four dozen houndsmen from Northwest Montana.

By most accounts, mountain lion populations are stable, if not growing in the region.

Ian Caswell, a houndsmen from Rexford, said he’s never had so many lions to hunt as now.

“To me, this sounds like it could be something that’s going in the right direction,” Caswell said. “Maybe this is the study that can tell them what we really have out there.”

Caswell said he does his hunting in the Hunter District 100, which encompasses an area just east of the Kootenai Reservoir, north to the Canadian border, west to the Idaho border and south to Libby.

Libby resident Don Clark has been hunting and chasing lions for nearly 50 years. He lobbied for the permit system years ago when resident hunters were concerned lions were being over-harvested.

“This is important for the future of lion hunting because some states have lost the ability to have regular seasons,” Clark said. “California, Washington and Oregon don’t allow lion hunting with dogs. This is a way to demonstrate how many lions there are because there will probably be another challenge to our season.”

FWP biologist Jay Kolbe talked about the history of lions in Montana and how the plan could work if money is available.

“Lions were nearly eliminated in Montana by 1930. There were bounties for them and hunting was unregulated, but in 1971 they were designated as a game animal and they reoccupied their historic mountain range,” Kolbe said.

Kolbe said it was likely harvest numbers correlated with lion numbers, but they were never sure.

FWP has established four regions for study, including Northwest Montana’s Region 1 and Region 2’s West-central and Northwest regions.

The study would cost about $115,000, and FWP needs the Montana Legislature to allocate the money for it.

According to FWP figures, the bulk of the costs would be to pay hound handlers $65,000 to conduct grid searches of 60 percent of the monitoring area during four sampling periods.

About $32,500 would be for a FWP biologist to run the study, which includes contracting houndsmen and other field staff, coordinating the day-to-day field operations and preparing data for analysis.

FWP is seeking public comment on the plan, and those are due at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15.

Written comments, should be mailed to Montana FWP, Wildlife Division, P.O. Box 200701, Helena, MT 59620-0701. Email comments to fwpwld@mt.gov or online at http://fwp.mt.gov/hunting/publicComments/2018/mtnLionMgmtStrategy.html.

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