In a strange turn around, some of Montana's mountain lion hunters are accusing the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MFWP) of increasing next year's lion hunting quota to satisfy the demands of hunting outfitters.
What touched off accusations of over-hunting was MFWP's newly released mountain lion quota for the upcoming 2014-15 hunting season. MFWP defended its new quota of an additional 37 lions based on the questionable findings of their five-month long Bitterroot DNA study, and a separate study which found that mountain lions were responsible for a major portion of elk calf mortalities in the Bitterroot valley.
Because of the bitterroot elk study, MFWP changed the second half of this year's lion hunt for that region by increasing the quota and opening it to anyone with a lion tag, as opposed to limiting it to only those with a permit to hunt those specific hunting districts in the Bitterroot.
Outraged Bitterroot lion hunters charged that the end result was a large influx of hunters from outside the region and the killing of young lions simply to satisfy outfitted clients. The additional hunting pressure was unwarranted, they said, because there are few of the big cats left.
"They're not there," said Chuck Pyles, who lives along the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. "I hunt almost every day and they're not there. I would like to see you lay off the females, lower the quota, because if not, we're going to have a problem."
Veteran hunter Grover Hedrick said he drove 132 miles of roads and only found five adult lion tracks in the Bitterroot. "That's not very many," he said.
The MFWP study that estimated lion numbers for the region was also criticized as deficient on many fronts by the hunters.
"What we got was keyboard cougars and paper pumas," said Rod Bullis.
Retired Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife research scientist Gary Koehler called the baseline population a best guess in a study that couldn't be replicated for verification. "This is a dangerous extrapolation from an untested protocol."
Koehler also noted that the work the study cited in Washington utilizing DNA samples is still being peer reviewed and tested.
Montana's 2013-14 mountain lion hunt resulted in the deaths of 518 lions.