• SAM WILSON Lee Newspapers
  • Jun 10, 2023

The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission on Thursday voted to dramatically increase hunting quotas for mountain lions across the state, aiming to reduce their populations by up to 40% in the next six years in the hopes of boosting the numbers of sheep, mule deer and moose.

The change in hunting quotas is specific to hunting districts, with some aiming for a less drastic reduction in lion numbers. For those districts targeted for a 40% reduction, hunters would need to kill 86% more mountain lions per year to reach that target, according to estimates provided by Brian Wakeling, the game management bureau chief for Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

“We don’t have real-time population estimates in every single lion unit, or even eco-region, but we do have a pretty sound understanding of the dynamics that are going on there, based on harvest demographics, things of that nature, that confirm to us that our populations are robust,” Wakeling told the commission.

Conservation groups and some sportsmen groups vocally opposed the motion, arguing the changes are too drastic and, at least in some places, may fail to address the real factors driving those population declines. Several members of the Montana State Houndsmen Association spoke against the proposal.

“I’ve hunted Montana most of my adult life and the ungulate population has waxed and waned every five to 10 years,” said Nathan Wolf of Livingston, one of the group’s board members. “And to put the focus on lions, when there are so many other factors there, doesn’t seem like an appropriate decision to make such an aggressive move.”

Several other groups supported the motion, including the Montana Outfitters and Guides Association and Safari Club International.

Jeff Darrah, with Montana Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, said his organization had hoped the commission would target a 30% reduction in spots “where ungulates are being severely impacted” and a 10% reduction elsewhere. He said the commission’s ultimate proposal was close enough to what they wanted that he supported it.

“Our group is generally a predator management-based association; we strongly believe that if there’s a predator problem, they need to be managed,” Darrah said.

The motion, brought by vice chairman Patrick Tabor, was unanimously approved by the commission following several region-specific amendments and a contentious public hearing. Tabor, who represents the northwest part of the state, said the proposal takes aim at the lagging population numbers for ungulate game animals — especially moose, sheep and mule deer.

“It’s not about trying to eliminate (lions) off the landscape,” Tabor said. “What it’s about is our statutory obligation of trying to create balance in terms of the alarming patterns that are occurring in the ungulate arena.”

During the public comment, Marc Cooke, president of Wolves of the Rockies, accused Tabor of bringing a self-serving motion that would benefit him as an outfitter who charges clients thousands of dollars per mountain lion hunt. The conservation group opposed the increased quotas.

Tabor responded afterward that his motivations are to “perpetuate populations for future generations” and noted that as acting chair during the meeting, he would not vote unless in the event of a tiebreaker.

Tabor also indicated there may be other similar proposals in the works.

“Right now we’re just talking about lions,” he said. “Who knows what we’ll be talking about next, prescriptively, to tackle the overall problem.”

My thoughts: So Mt. FWP Commissioners are saying there is a reduced ungulate population due to lion predation? So increasing the mountain lion quotas will help the mule deer? Maybe. I always thought reduced mule deer pops would also reduce lion pops. Less food for lions equals less lions. Probably over-simplified thinking on my part? A female mountain lion with kittens will kill a deer a week…over fifty deer a year. But what if there are no deer for her to feed her young?

I am pro mountain lion hunting. I have hunted lions. I am lucky to have harvested a fine Montana tom with my traditional recurve bow and homemade cedar arrows which made the Pope & Young record book. So as a lion hunter, I guess I would be for increased quotas. But what if reduced mule deer pops are caused by loss of habitat due to human development, sprawling subdivisions and turning deer habitat into strip malls and Town Pumps? Should FWP offer a bounty on land developers? And for a true picture of the mountain lion population in Montana, consult with the houndsmen who spend more time in and around the big cats than anyone else.

I don’t have answers…only questions. I wrote about it some time ago….read about it here: SILENT PARTNER | Randy Brown’s Madison Fisher (randybrownsmf.com)