Helena city leaders are warning the public to be on the lookout, after reports of mountain lion activity in the Mount Helena area.
Brad Langsather, the city’s open lands manager, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks told them someone found a deer that had been killed by a lion on the north side of Mount Helena Park, near one of the recreation trails. They then got a report that someone saw a lion Monday night on the south side, in the Dump Gulch area.
Helena Parks, Recreation and Open Lands placed warning signs at about 10 trailheads that lead into Mount Helena Park.
“The purpose of the sign is not only to let the public know that they may encounter a lion, but to walk them through some of the items that, if there is a lion encounter, will help avoid an actual attack,” Langsather said.
Leaders say mountain lions are most active around dawn and dusk. They recommend hiking or running in groups. They also suggest keeping small children close and pets on leash while on the trails, because running can trigger a lion’s prey drive. If you see an animal that was killed, be aware a predator could still be nearby.
If you do encounter a mountain lion, leaders say the best thing to do is stand up tall and make yourself look as large as possible. They advise maintaining eye contact with the lion while giving it a way to escape. You should not run away or make any quick movements.
Leaders advise carrying bear spray, which can also deter mountain lions. They say it’s rare for a lion to attack, but if one does, they recommend fighting back.
While this warning is specific for Mount Helena Park, Langsather said people should always keep in mind that there may be mountain lions on Mount Helena, Mount Ascension or elsewhere in the South Hills.
“The public can expect to encounter both lions or bears within these parks,” he said. “It’s always important to understand the proper safety precautions to use when you’re hiking, running, biking, and what you should do if you encounter either of the species.”
Greg Lemon, FWP’s communication and education division administrator echoed that.
“It’s not common to see them,” he said. “It doesn’t mean they’re not there.”
Langsather said city leaders are looking at installing permanent signage at the trailheads, to let people know they are in mountain lion territory.