KALISPELL — State wildlife officials say they have removed three mountain lions from Wild Horse Island on Flathead Lake.
Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) "lethally removed three adult mountain lions" this winter in collaboration with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) according to a news release.
FWP had received reports of lion sightings from landowners and visitors and indicated the lions had grown used to people. FWP officials note that several lions on the 2,163 acre island had created a public safety issue.
FWP and CSKT were concerned about how the lions might impact bighorn sheep which have lived disease-free on the island for nearly a century.
More than 560 sheep have been moved from Wild Horse Island over the last 50 years to establish new herds and augment existing populations across the U.S. Last year FWP moved 26 bighorn sheep from the island to the Tendoy Mountains in southwest Montana.
Wildlife officials say while bears and mountain lions have been sporadically seen on the island over time, the density and habituated behavior of these three lions warranted removal, according to FWP and CSKT wildlife managers.
“Alongside prioritizing public safety, we felt it was important to protect one of the few disease-free bighorn sheep herds because of the role it plays in the greater conservation of the species across North America,” said FWP regional wildlife manager Neil Anderson. “Due to the lack of escape terrain for bighorn sheep and the number of lions on the island, the bighorn population has been reduced to a number we haven’t seen in decades.”
“Mountain lion and other cats, like the bobcat, hold significant cultural importance to Tribal members, and are not hunted within the Flathead Indian Reservation,” said CSKT wildlife manager Kari Eneas. “Our mountain lion populations are healthy and, in this unique situation, we considered the habituated behavior and density of animals of all wildlife species on the island in our cooperative decision with FWP.”
FWP has a long-standing policy against moving a habituated mountain lion noting that studies have shown moving a lion is generally not successful in preventing the lion from returning, or it creates new territorial conflicts with other lions.
The lion hides and skulls from Wild Horse Island were transferred to the CSKT for educational use.