Lush river Inlet to Payette Lake in Idaho at sunrise.
  Photo Courtesy of Charles Knowles / The Knowles Gallery
 

MOUNTAIN LIONS IN IDAHO

Idaho is one of the few states which refuses to make any official estimate on the number of lions currently residing within the state. This is hardly remarkable, since a population estimate would raise the possibility of public scrutiny and accompanying criticism of their exceptionally high annual hunting quotas.

SUMMARY: Mountain Lions in Idaho




Idaho Mountain Lion Habitat and Population Estimates

The state of Idaho encompasses approximately 82,474 square miles (213,607 square km) of land. Of this, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) estimates that 97 percent, or roughly 80,000 square miles (207,199 square km), of the state is potential mountain lion habitat. This habitat estimate might be excessive. Using a Gap habitat analysis map to ascertain the amount of mountain lion habitat in each of Idaho's mountain lion management units (MLMUs), MLF researchers were only able to identify 49,314 square miles (127,722 square km) of potential lion habitat.

Mountain lion populations appear to be distributed throughout most of the state, though their numbers are likely sparse in the open landscape of the Snake River Plain.

Idaho game officials refuse to make any official estimate on the number of lions currently residing within the state. This is hardly remarkable, since a population estimate would raise the possibility of public scrutiny and accompanying criticism if their annual hunting quotas proved to be statistically excessive.

Back in 2008, Steve Nadeau, IDFG's Large Carnivore Manager, made a presentation on the status of Idaho's mountain lions at the Ninth Mountain Lion Workshop (a conference for state game managers). At that time he postulated that "given an estimated harvest rate statewide of approximately 15-20% (estimated to stabilize the population), we would back calculate and estimate a state population of about 2,000-3,000 lions."

While that explanation may sound reasonable, what Mr. Nadeau is essentially saying is that since IDFG wants to believe (without the necessary scientific evidence to back that belief) that Idaho's lion population is "stabilized" they simply took the number of lions killed during a particular hunting season, and arbitrarily assigned a 15 to 20 percent designator to that number which they then used to determine a lion population total that has nothing to do with reality.

If IDFG were honest about managing Idaho's mountain lions for sustainability, then they would first determine to the best of their ability (using scientifically accepted protocols such as habitat and prey availably, all mortality numbers and other research data) a defensible lion population estimate, and then use that number to ascertain whether or not the hunting levels are appropriate for a stable population.

Based on the limited information available, MLF's best guess places Idaho's mountain lion population closer to possibly 2,000 or less.

History of Mountain Lion Management in Idaho

Idaho's Bounty Period

Similar to other western states, mountain lions in Idaho were considered significant threats to livestock and other human interests for most of the 20th Century, and government policy at the time was to remove that threat.

Between 1915 and 1958, Idaho's mountain lions were considered a "bountied animal," and hunters were employed cooperatively by the State, livestock associations, and the Federal Government to kill them. Spotty record keeping during the early part of Idaho's bounty period (1915-1939), makes it impossible to determine exactly how many lions died as a result Idaho's numerous bounty programs, however at least 1,479 lions were turned in for the bounty during the 44-year period with 76 percent of those deaths occurring between 1940 and 1958.

Idaho's Transition Years - 1959 - 1971

In the mid-50s the bounty paid for mountain lions in Idaho dropped from $50 to $25, and subsequently the number of lions killed and turned in for the bounty dropped dramatically. At the same time the killing of lions for recreational purposes was increasing in popularity, and annual lion mortality levels in the '60s regularly reached or exceeded those of the previous decade. Lion mortality levels of this period peaked during the 1971-72 season with 303 reported killed. During this short 13-year period at least 1,849 mountain lions died in Idaho.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game's Stewardship

Almost sixty years of systematic preemptive removals and unregulated hunting eventually resulted in noticeable declines in Idaho's mountain lion population and its distribution in many of the most popular and accessible hunting areas. Dr. Maurice Hornocker's landmark research in the Big Creek drainage of the Frank Church River of No return Wilderness, coupled with concerns over the sustainability of the species, led to the reclassification of mountain lions in Idaho as a "Big Game Species" by the state legislature I 1972. This classification restricted the hunting of the species to regulated seasons set by IDFG. The following year a mandatory check of sport hunted mountain lions was initiated. In 1975, a hunting tag was required for the first time on mountain lions.

A 1990 Mountain Lion Management Plan by IDFG biologists called for maintaining mountain lion hunting mortality numbers at about 250 animals per year. However, despite the recommendations laid out in this plan, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission in the mid-1990's authorized increases in hunting quotas for mountain lions in several regions of the state over concerns that elk and deer populations were below management goals. The Commission continued to increase the quota statewide in the late 1990s, particularly in those areas where mountain lions were claimed to be restricting growth of deer and elk populations. In 1999, the Commission adopted the state's first predator control policy.

In 2003, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game completed a Mountain Lion Management Plan which established the following goals:

Maintain mountain lion populations in Idaho at levels sufficient to assure their future recreational, ecological, intrinsic, scientific and educational values, and to limit conflicts with human enterprise and values;

  1. Maintain a diversity of sport harvest opportunities for mountain lion;
  2. Be responsive to human conflicts, livestock depredations, and prey population objectives; and
  3. Research and develop better mountain lion population-monitoring tools.

This particular Management Plan also stated that Idaho has the most liberal mountain lion hunting guidelines in the West. According to the plan, all of the U.S. states and Canadian Provinces surrounding Idaho have "more conservative seasons than Idaho. "This will continue to focus attention on Idaho's mountain lion population because of our long and comparatively unrestricted seasons."

Human-Caused Mountain Lion Mortalities in Idaho

Since 1918 (the first year data is available) at least 18,276 mountain lions have been reported killed by humans in Idaho. Over 82 percent (approximately 15,000) of these mortalities occurred after mountain lions were classified as game animals in 1972. A few years back MLF researchers reviewed lion mortality data in eleven western states in an effort to determine where the highest concentrations of killings were taking place. During the ten-year study period (1992-2001), human-caused mountain lion mortalities steadily increased from 388 reported in 1992 to a peak of 796 in 1997 before steadying out and dropping slightly to 672 in 2001.

Based on MLF's mortality density model, Idaho(—)with an annual average of 613 reported mountain lion deaths during this time period(—)averages 1.24 mountain lions reported killed by humans for every 100 square miles of habitat. The study average is 0.65. Using the study's mortality ranking system, Idaho ranked 2nd among the 11 study states in reported human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

Idaho's Mountain Lion Mortality Hot Spots

Using the study's mortality ranking system, Idaho's top five Mountain Lion Management Units (MLMU) were Palouse-Dworshak, Elk City, Panhandle, Oakley, and Lolo. The first four of these were also listed in the study's ranking of the top 15 mountain lion mortality hot spots. Study-wide they rank 1st, 2nd, 8th, and 11th respectively.

From 1997 to 2001, these MLMUs accounted for 1,799 human-caused mountain lion mortalities. During this time period, these MLMUs were responsible for 50 percent of all human-caused mountain lion mortalities while encompassing only 30 percent of Idaho's mountain lion habitat.

The Palouse-Dworshak MLMU was Idaho's, as well as the West's, number one killing field with an average mortality density rating of 3.2. From 1997 to 2001, the Palouse-Dworshak MLMU averaged 72 human-caused mountain lion mortalities per year and accounted for 10 percent of all the state's human-caused mountain lion mortalities.

Mountain Lions and the Idaho Fish and Game Commission

Much of the attention on management of mountain lions in Idaho has centered on the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. Over the years, the Commission has been roundly criticized by conservationists, wildlife biologists, and even IDFG personnel, for politicizing decisions about conservation and management of mountain lions and other wildlife in the state. After retiring from IDFG in 2001, 29-year career veteran Conservation Officer Lee Frost lamented that "Right now, the commission is out of control on the predator issue. They, for whatever reason, have decided to manage for several species at the expense of predators. It's not healthy for the department, the people or the resource." The Commissions political decision making process, he argued, trumped and was frequently at odds with the conclusions of IDFG biologists. Notably, he stated that IDFG "hasn't managed wildlife, per se. We've manipulated it. If we were managing it, we'd spend our money on improving habitat. We're manipulating for revenue." Frost lamented, "We've lost a lot of good people who won't compromise good, sound science for politics."

In 2002, IDFG director Ron Sando was forced to resign after he refused to retract citations given to a rancher who killed three mountain lions without apparent due cause. Sando stated in an email to IDFG employees that "philosophical differences have become impossible to overcome." The day of his resignation, the Commission reopened the mountain lion season in eastern Idaho and increased the quota on female lions above those recommended by IDFG biologists.

Idaho Mountain Lions and Out-Of-State Influences

Criticisms of how mountain lions are managed in Idaho have not been confined to conservation groups and biologists. Fourth generation Idahoan and mountain lion hunter Ken Hoffman says he has observed a significant decline in mountain lions in the Garden Valley area of south-central Idaho largely because of too many hunters and inflated hunting quotas. "Now that running hounds is illegal in Washington, Oregon and California, there are literally hundreds of people who have moved here to run dogs on mountain lions and black bears," says Hoffman. "There used to be about 100 people in our hound club. Now there's over 300." The increase in quotas, Hoffman argues, has been provided to satisfy the large number of outfitters in the area who provide mountain lion hunts to out-of-state hunters (An outfitter can average $3,000 to $5,000 dollars per person for an outfitted and guided mountain lion hunt).

On a side note: in the winter of 2011, Dan Richards, President of the California Fish and Game Commission accepted a free guided lion hunt in Idaho and posted a picture of him holding his "trophy" lion on the web. An outcry was made by enraged California citizens, and several members of the California legislature tried to get Mr. Richards to resign from the Commission. When he refused, several legislative bills were passed changing how California appoints members and elects officers to its game commission.


Mountain Lions and Idaho's Elk Herds

In 2001, as a result of Idaho Fish and Game Commission directives, Wildlife Services, a program of the US Department of Agriculture, proposed to control mountain lions in the Clearwater Region of the state; ostensibly to see what effect it would have on elk populations. Widespread public opposition and threats of litigation by conservation groups stopped the project before it began. However, the reduction of the mountain lion population in this region was still undertaken by increasing the local hunting quotas. Faced with arguments that changes in habitat played a critical role in declining ungulate populations, then IDFG Wildlife Chief Steve Huffaker, stated "We don't own or manage habitat. The only thing we can do something about is predation."

Dr. Howard Quigley, who has studied mountain lions for several decades, argued that "When elk herds go down our immediate response is to go out and round up the usual suspects. Those tend to be the predators." "Across the West, commissions are wrestling with this and really turning back some of the advances we've made in managing the cougars," he adds. "There have been significant increases in hunting quotas, especially in those areas where deer and elk populations have declined."

According to Lynn Fritchman, long-time Idaho resident, hunter, and conservationist, "While Idaho's lion population is in no immediate danger of elimination, the excessively high quotas, in some cases no quotas, and lengthened seasons, based to a large extent on anecdotal evidence of predation on ungulates, does not bode well for the species. Habitat degradation and actual loss thereof are insufficiently considered when assessing declining elk herds."

MOUNTAIN LION MORTALITIES IN IDAHO

1915 - 2011

TOTAL 18,577
1915 to 1958 -- Bounty Period 1,479
1959 to 1971 -- Transition Era 1,849
1972 to 2011 -- IDFG's Stewardship Period - The "Protected" Years 14,948



Last Update: February 14, 2012

Who Owns the Wildlife?

12/21/11 GUEST COMMENTARY: John W. Laundré, Cougar Biologist
State University of New York at Oswego

A cougar biologist takes a strong stand on the real value of wildlife. In this important opinion piece, John Laundré considers the public cost of wildlife mismanagement, and the consequences of bureaucratic decisions that fail to consider the public good and the intrinsic value of wild predators.

The American Lion: Biology and Behavior

01/01/11 An 8-minute video by the Mountain Lion Foundation.

Spend just eight minutes and learn little known facts about the fascinating mountain lion. Get a glimpse of how a mountain lion thinks, feels, and senses. What makes the mountain lion so adaptable to a wide variety of habitats? How does their hunting differ from that of wolves and bears? What is their relationship to the ecosystem?

Sign: Evidence of a Lion's Presence

01/01/10 Mountain Lion Foundation Staff and Volunteers

Seeing a lion in the wild is an especially rare occurrence. Cougars are solitary, elusive, and very stealthy. If a cougar is in the area and you are lucky enough to detect its presence, most often it will be due to "cougar sign" and not actually seeing the animal. These signs are evidence left behind after a cougar has passed through. Cougar signs include tracks, scat, scratches and cached (partially buried) prey.

When Balance is Not Enough

06/10/04 Mountain Lion Foundation Staff

What purpose do the mountain lion and other major predators serve? These animals are at the top of the food chain. With a shrug, we respond with words recalled form high school biology: Predators contribute to the balance of nature. But balance is not enough. An empty scale will balance.

IDAHO MOUNTAIN LIONS: LAW & REGULATION




Idaho's legal code , Puma concolor is generally referred to as "mountain lion."

Species Status

The species is classified as big game, along with black bear, California bighorn sheep, elk, gray wolves, grizzly bear, moose, mountain goat, mule deer, pronghorn antelope, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, and white-tailed deer. The regulation pertaining to Idaho's threatened and endangered species apply to mountain lions because the regulation applies to all species that are native to Idaho.

State Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of Idaho is governed by the Idaho Statutes — the state's collection of laws passed by its legislature. Wildlife regulations can be found in the Idaho Administrative Code — the collection of all Idaho's department rules and regulations. Since our summary may not be completely up to date, be sure to check the latest laws and regulations for the State of Idaho.

You can check the statutes directly at a state-managed website: http://legislature.idaho.gov/idstat/TOC/IDStatutesTOC.htm These statutes are searchable. Be sure to use the name "mountain lion" to accomplish your searches.

The Legislature

The Idaho state legislature is a part-time, bicameral legislature. The lower chamber — the House of Representatives — is made up of 70 members who serve 2-year terms. The Republican Party has controlled the Idaho House of Representatives since the 1950s. The upper chamber — the Senate — consists of 35 members serving 2-year terms. The Republican Party has controlled the Idaho Senate since at least 1992. If you do not know in which legislative district you live, the state maintains this website to help you find your district. If you already know in which legislative district you live, you may contact your legislator by district, name, or their committee assignments.

Idaho lawstates that regular sessions of the legislature convene at 12:00 on the Monday closest to or on the 9th of January. The Idaho Constitution also gives the governor the power to call special sessions of the legislature. Neither the Idaho Statutes nor the Idaho Constitution specify how long legislative sessions may last, but regular sessions usually last into March.

State Regulation

Idaho's Department of Fish and Game regulations generally govern the state's treatment of wildlife. The regulations are set by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission and are part of the Idaho Administrative Code .

Idaho Fish and Game Commission

The Idaho Fish and Game Commission is a 7-member board whose members are appointed by the governor and approved by the Idaho Senate. The commissioners serve staggered 4-year terms. No more than four commissioners may be from the same political party. Commissioners must be residents of the region they are appointed to represent and must be knowledgeable about wildlife conservation and restoration. The commission is responsible for the supervision of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game; the establishment of regulations concerning fishing, hunting, trapping and the management of wildlife; the approval of the department's budget proposal to be submitted to the state legislature; and the holding of public hearings to address the state's wildlife management.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) is an agency within the Idaho executive branch. The department enforces the regulations of and is overseen by the Idaho Game and Fish Commission.

Management Plan

Idaho's latest plans for mountain lion management appear to be the black bear and mountain lion sections of 2014's Predation Management Plan for the Middle Fork Elk Zone and the 2011 revision of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game Predation Management Plan For the Lolo and Selway Elk Zones. The plans were prepared by the IDFG in accordance with Idaho Fish and Game Commission policy. Neither plan states when it will be revisited.

Idaho's latest management plan specific to mountain lions appears to be the report published in 2002. The plan was prepared by the IDFG, approved by the department's director, and adopted by the Idaho Fish and Game Commission. The plan aimed to "[chart] the course for the Department of Fish and Game during 2002 - 2010 to manage Idaho's mountain lion populations and to provide recreational opportunity, maintain healthy lion populations, and provide for human use and products." The report states that it was prepared as part of the IDFG's statutory responsibility to conserve, protect, perpetuate and manage all wildlife within the state. Idaho does not appear to have prepared another mountain lion-specific plan since this plan's time-frame ended.

Hunting Law

Hunting of mountain lions is allowed in the State of Idaho. The regulations governing "recreational" hunting of mountain lions specify 99 game management units. Mountain lion hunting season generally runs from August 30 to March 31. Hound hunting is allowed. Most management units prohibit the use of dogs during October and November.

Idaho allows the hunting of mountain lions with firearms weighing less than 16 pounds that are not fully automatic, shotguns using shot larger than double-aught (#00) buck, rimfire firearms, muzzleloading rifles or muskets that are less than .45 caliber, bows that fire one arrow at a time, crossbows, and electronic calls.

Some management units have female quotas. After the female quota is reached, mountain lion hunting continues for the rest of the season but only males may be killed. The Fish and Game Commission sets the female quotas based on biologists' decisions on population trends. Idaho prohibits the killing of spotted kittens and females accompanied by kittens.

Public Safety Law

Idaho does not appear to have a law or regulation governing what a person may do in the event of a mountain lion attack.

Depredation Law

Depredation law in Idaho specifies that landowners are to report any mountain lion that has done damage to or is damaging livestock to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA will investigate the complaint within 72 hours. The law also states that the IDFG director will consult with the appropriate land management agencies before relocating any mountain lion. The law does not say if the landowner may or may not kill the depredating lion. Owners of domestic animals are required to take "all reasonable steps" to protect their pets or livestock. There is a government-funded compensation program for losses of domestic animals to mountain lions.

Trapping

Mountain lions may not be trapped for fur in Idaho. The regulations governing trapping in Idaho specify that gray wolves are the only big game species that may be trapped. Any non-target species caught in a trap must be released immediately. If a trap kills a non-target species, the trapper must take possession for the carcass and has 72 hours to arrange to surrender the carcass to the IDFG.

Poaching

Poaching law in the State of Idaho provides some protection of mountain lions in law, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. For each mountain lion killed or possessed illegally, the poacher must reimburse the state $400. The fine is doubled if the poacher commits the same offense again within 12 months. If a poacher kills any combination of animals with a reimbursement value greater than $1,000 within a 12-month period, he/she is guilty of a felony. Anyone guilty of a felony in Idaho can be punished with up to five years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $50,000. Any poacher who is convicted of or pleads guilty to three or more felony offenses within a 5-year period may have his/her fishing, hunting, or trapping privileges revoked for life. For each conviction, Idaho also imposes a $7.50 fine to be deposited in the state's search and rescue account.

Road Mortalities

The Idaho Transportation Department does not keep records of mountain lions killed on the State's roads.



Last Update: June 4, 2014