DAYTON - Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) lethally removed three habituated mountain lions from Wild Horse Island this winter to keep the population of bighorn sheep and people safe.
There is no documentation in almost 100 years of surveying the island of this many lions ever being on the island.
Typically, mountain lions have a range that they like to have for themselves and do not tolerate other lions coming into that range. FWP spokesman Dillon Tabish is amazed that three lions coexisted on about 2,000 acres of land.
“And so to have three lions on an island of that size is pretty remarkable. I think it goes it speaks to the food source that they had on that island as a captive source, you know, of prey essentially on that island,” said Tabish.
The bighorn sheep on Wild Horse island are used to repopulate herds across the northwest and Canada. In a recent informal survey, the number of bighorn sheep was down compared to normal levels.
“So that was one of the things that really caught our attention as well as we receive reports and photos from visitors and landowners on the island of these mountain lions,” said Tabish.
FWP worked closely with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) in removing the lions. The skulls and hides were given to the CSKT for educational use.
Mountain lions are very rarely relocated because they will return to the location quickly after removal. “So moving the lion doesn't really do anything but move a problem ,move a potential safety risk in this scenario, so we decided to lethally remove it,” said Tabish.
It is unclear as to how the lions got on the island. One scenario is that they swam from the shore to Cromwell Island and then to Wild Horse Island. The other scenario is that they walked across the bay after it had frozen.
FWP officials are not concerned about the local population of mountain lions.
“Removing these through lions from Wild Horse Island State Park does not have an impact on the population of mountain lions in northwest Montana. Montana has an abundant population of lions. And you know, we manage populations, not individuals. And this this removal does not hurt the population in any way." - FWP spokesman Dillon Tabish
The lions that were removed were one female and two males so there is potential for cubs to appear on the island. FWP will continue to do frequent surveys in search of cubs.