Montana’s newly adopted mountain lion hunting plan favors recreational trophy hunting interests over public safety and sound wildlife management. The Fish and Wildlife Commission voted unanimously to adopt the quotas at its June 25 meeting, despite opposition from the Mountain Lion Foundation (MLF) and members of the public. MLF submitted written comments pointing out that Montana’s hunting quotas are unsustainable and likely to increase conflicts between lions, people, livestock and pets. Commission staff acknowledged receiving an unusually high number of public input, the majority of which opposed the plan. The adopted plan allows hunters to kill 668 of the state’s native lions over an 8-month season, with methods that include the use of hounds.
In written testimony, MLF clearly demonstrated that Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) has drastically overestimated the state’s mountain lion population at 5,330 animals. The actual number may be less than half of that. A scientific analysis of the state’s habitat areas and known density rates for mountain lions puts their likely population between 2,112 and 3,258.
“The commission has adopted quotas that would be unsustainable for a population of 5,330 cats, but considering the actual population is likely much less, this plan is devastating for the mountain lion population and poses risks to humans and domestic animals as well,” stated the CEO of the Mountain Lion Foundation.
MLF clearly pointed to scientific sustainable standards that allow the killing of no more than 12-14% of a population in any given year – a rate that should factor in all human-caused fatalities, including traffic accidents and poisonings. But Montana’s hunting quotas could kill as much as 31% of the lion population. MLF warns that such aggressive hunting rates are shown to increase human and livestock conflicts.
In addition, there are numerous recent studies in Washington State and British Columbia that find higher rates of hunting disrupt the lions’ highly territorial social structure and lead to an increase in human and livestock encounters. Researchers in Washington State found that as wildlife officials increased quotas and lengthened hunting seasons, mountain lion complaints increased rather than decreased. Another study out of Washington State found that male home range size increased in response to increased hunting pressure, leading to increased human and livestock conflict with sub-adult males. These findings were supported by a study in British Columbia, which also concluded that increased hunting pressure resulted in increased conflict with humans.
In a letter submitted during the Commission’s public comment period, MLF urged FWP to adopt lower hunting quotas, remove female lions from the quota, eliminate hounding, and delay the start of the season until at least December 1. Under the adopted plan, archery season opens in early September and the overall season continues through April. “This means Montana’s lions are relentlessly hounded and hunted for eight months of the year,” stated Michelle Blake, MLF Regional Coordinator for Montana. “Studies show that seasons need to open in December or later to avoid high numbers of orphaned kittens and cubs. Hounding is banned in one-third of the U.S. because it’s not considered fair chase, and it also puts non-target wildlife at risk of being injured and killed by the dog packs.”
Pointing to accepted sustainable practices that limit female lions to more than 20% of a total quota, the MLF rejected the state’s plan to include up to 26% female lions in the total take. This practice, coupled with the state’s unusually early and long season, likely causes kittens and cubs to be orphaned at an unacceptably high rate. MLF maintains that mountain lions are a self-regulating native species that does not need to be hunted at all, but where hunting does occur, female lions shouldn’t be included in the quotas because they contribute disproportionately to the population.
“At one point, these animals were nearly vilified and hunted out of existence. This is a native species that has a right to be here and thrive,” says Chase. “We do have the means to peacefully coexist with them, keeping humans and domestic animals safe in the process. Attitudes are changing; people increasingly understand that this apex species is an essential part of a healthy ecosystem. It’s past time for game management policies to catch up.”
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Founded in 1986, the Mountain Lion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to ensure that America’s lion survives and flourishes in the wild.