On April 19, 2023, the Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) opened up their public comment regarding alternatives to the current quota system in the state. Four options were presented. One is to maintain the status quo for hunting where all units are maintained for stability, except those in the Northwestern Region. (In the Northwestern Region, the Lion Ecological Population Objective Committee, comprising of hound handlers, deer hunters, elk hunters, sheep hunters, lion guides and outfitters, livestock producers and the general public, decided to set quotas with the aim of reducing the lion population by 12.5 percent.) The remaining options show quotas that would reduce the lion population by either 10, 20, or 40 percent in the next 6 years.
The Montana FWP has recommended none of the four options but is providing them to the commission due to public input. The Mountain Lion Foundation has urged the Montana FWP Commission to oppose all options that would reduce the lion population as dramatic. The Commission will meet on June 8, 2023 to make their decision.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) conducts population monitoring in two of its ecoregions, the Northwest and West-Central. In the Northwest ecoregion, the median independent-aged density for mountain lions was calculated at 3.7/100 km2. In the West-Central ecoregion, the median independent-aged density for mountain lions was calculated at 2.0/100 km2. The total population the two ecoregions is 2,409 independent aged mountain lions. More rigorous population monitoring is needed in the other ecoregions.
Montana formed the Northwest Lion Ecoregion Population Objective Committee (LEPOC) to determine the future for the mountain lion population in Montana. The committee is composed of hound hunters, deer hunters, elk hunters, sheep hunters, lion guides/outfitters, livestock producers, and the “general public.” The committee was not designed to consider the input from the scientific community, the outdoor recreation community that does not include hunting. This committee chose to reduce the mountain lion population by 12.5 percent through hunting, which is not supported by any ecological evidence.
A second LEPOC is being formed for the West-Central region, which may mean further threats will be enacted onto the mountain lion population in Montana if they make decisions as the Northwest LEPOC has.
The 1996 Final Environmental Impact Statement for Management of Mountain Lions in Montana states that the objectives of the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department mountain lion management program are to “maintain both mountain lion and prey populations at levels that are compatible with outdoor recreational desires, and to minimize human-lion conflicts and livestock depredation.”
Within that document, MFWP proposed to update the statewide management strategy to include the following objectives:
- determine the carrying capacity of different habitats within the state for mountain lions and their prey;
- improve the ability to monitor populations and determine their status, composition and trend;
- improve the regulation of the annual “harvest”;
- improve public understanding of mountain lion biology, habitat requirements and management; and
- develop policies and a proactive program to address human-lion confrontations and livestock depredation.
Since its inception in 1972, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department continuously increased its annual hunting quota on mountain lions until, in the late 1990s, they were pressured to reduce that quota due to complaints from sport hunters and outfitters that mountain lions were becoming scarce.
Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Montana
Since 1902, (the first year records are available) at least 13,188 mountain lions have been reported killed by humans in Montana. This figure does not include:
- lion deaths from road accidents,
- secondary poisoning,
- kittens or injured adults euthanized by MFWP,
- death by unknown causes, and
86 percent of these mortalities occurred after mountain lions were declared as game animals in 1971. Based on 108 years of records, human-caused mortalities peaked in 1998 with a record 818 mountain lions reported killed that year.
Human Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Montana
Between 1992 and 2001 sport hunting in Montana accounted for 96 percent of all reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities with the majority of the remaining 4 percent the result of depredation incidents.
In 2003 Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department provided a gender breakdown of its mountain lion harvests for the years 1998 through 2001. During this 4-year period 52 percent (1,305) of the total sport hunting take were female mountain lions.
The percentage of female mountain lions killed each year still remains fairly high with females roughly accounting for 30 percent (105) of the 352 mountain lions killed during the 2009-10 hunting season.