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Managing The Elusive Mountain Lion


Thu Oct 28 00:00:00 MDT 2004

With the opening of the fall mountain lion season Oct. 24, questions about the number, location and health of lion populations abound. Obtaining that information can be a tall order for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks biologists.

"Seemingly simple questions about how many lions are out there, where, and how well they are doing are tough to answer when you’re talking about the reclusive, secretive mountain lion," said Rich DeSimone, FWP biologist.

The fall mountain lion season for hunting without hounds continues until Nov. 28, or until pre-established harvest limits are met. Only 20 percent of the overall quota can be taken during the fall hunting season. Mountain lion hunting with hounds generally begins Dec. 1

FWP is testing a variety of techniques to better monitor this elusive species. As part of this research, DeSimone oversees a lion study in the Garnet Mountains near Ovando. A total of 90 mountain lions have been radio-collared and monitored since 1998.

"Our long-term goal is to identify accurate and relatively efficient ways of monitoring mountain lion populations. To do so, we need to find a long-term, consistent correlation between indirect population measures and the actual number of lions in the radio-collared study population," DeSimone said.

Examples of the indirect population measures being tested include: lion tracks observed on established snowmobile routes; population monitoring trends among prey species; interviewing houndsmen through telephone surveys; and FWP harvest surveys that report deer hunters' observations of lions while hunting.

At least one of these indirect population measures—deer hunter observations of lions by hunting district documented in FWP’s post-season deer harvest survey—appears to have promise.

DeSimone said that an approximately 30-percent reduction in radio-collared lions in the Blackfoot portion of the study area between 2000-2003 was also reported by deer hunters who observed fewer lions in this area. In 2003-2004, the lion population slowly began to increase in the Blackfoot portion of the study area and deer hunters observed a 10-15 percent increase in the number of lions there.

"In this very brief period of time it appears there may be a correlation between hunter-reported sightings and actual changes in the lion population in the study area," DeSimone said.

More time and testing will be required to determine whether the correlation is strong enough for this to be a future tool in estimating the abundance of mountain lions in the state, he said.

While FWP’s research is in its initial stages, some early findings may be of interest to those who hunt deer, elk and lions. For example:

* Of the nearly 50,000 hunters asked to report sightings of mountain lions each year since 2000, the percent of deer hunters seeing lions ranged from 4 percent in northwestern Montana to less than 1 percent in eastern Montana.

* Statewide, the percentage of deer hunters observing mountain lions while hunting has declined from 2.6 percent in 2000 to 1.8 percent in 2003. That is, deer hunters encountered about one-third fewer lions in 2003 than in 2000.

For details on FWP’s Garnet Mountains mountain lion research, contact Rich DeSimone at 406-841-4014 or by email: