HELENA – Mountain lion quotas adopted by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission on Thursday were applauded by several commenters and commissioners, while the decision irked some hunters concerned that the quotas do not do enough to protect elk and deer from the big cats in the Bitterroot Valley.
After a contentious April commission meeting in which houndsmen testified in force that lion populations had fallen and that proposals called for harvesting too many females, the commission on Thursday adopted the recommendations of the Region 2 Montana Lion Work Group calling for an increase in male and decrease in female harvest throughout most of Region 2. The current quotas call for a region-wide harvest of 79 males and 85 females for a total of 164 mountain lions. The new quotas for next year shifted to 96 males and 65 females for a 161 total.
The 12-member working group included outfitters, houndsmen and deer and elk hunters. The resulting quota recommendations, which the commission adopted, resulted from compromising between lion hunters, deer and elk hunters, non-hunters and those living in the wildland-urban interface, said working group member Toby Walrath.
Commissioner Gary Wolfe commended the working group for the successful compromise.
“I think it’s important to note that nobody got exactly what they wanted to have, but this was a proposal all 12 members said they could accept,” he said.
Working group member Rod Bullis estimated the combined efforts of the members and FWP staff required more than 1,300 hours to reach an agreement.
The change in female harvest favored by lion hunters would result in more lions, which would hurt struggling ungulate populations in the Bitterroot, echoed several commenters that made the trip from Ravalli County.
“I applaud the work of the lion working group and I’d like to see that much effort put into elk and deer,” said Hamilton resident Robert Wood of the Montana Sportsmen Alliance. “We’re strong advocates for science-based management, but it seems we’re leaning more and more and more to social concerns and throwing the data and the science away.”
Deer populations in the Bitterroot are the lowest he has ever seen, and while FWP addressed bear and wolf predations, lions also needed attention, Wood said.
Science was the underpinning of the working group recommendations, Wolfe countered.
"Throughout the entire four-day process, science was in the forefront," he said. "Hardly 30 minutes went by without the members asking a question or seeking clarification about the science."
The commission voted unanimously to approve the working group recommended quotas.
The working group also recommended that FWP develop a statewide lion management plan and require a gender ID test for lion hunters, but the commission did not address those recommendations at Thursday's meeting.