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Public tells FWP to increase mountain-lion harvests

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Public comments overwhelmingly support a proposal to increase the number of mountain lions that can be harvested in Montana.

Of about 115 comments received by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, 91 were in favor of increasing the number of mountain lions — in particular females — that can be taken as part of a population control effort. Only two people advocated decreasing the quotas; 22 recommended maintaining the status quo.

Overall, the proposed quota adjustments call for allowing 517 lions to be harvested during the 2012-13 season, which is about 95 more than the previous year.

For Region 1 in northwestern Montana, FWP is proposing to increase the number of special licenses issued by 37, for a total of 223.

In Region 2, which includes the Bitterroot, lower Clark Fork and Blackfoot areas, the proposal calls for dropping the special licenses by 32 for a total of 165 in the Bitterroot, but increasing the female subquotas; adding two new special licenses in the Blackfoot, along with increasing and decreasing quotas in certain hunting districts; and adding three special licenses in the upper Clark Fork.

For Region 3 in southwestern Montana, the tentative proposal increases the number of special licenses by 30, for a total of 82.

The Region 4 proposal for northcentral Montana calls for increasing the special licenses by one for a total of 15.

Changes aren’t proposed for quotas in the other regions.

At a previous hearing, Quentin Kujala, the FWP’s wildlife manager, noted that in the past two decades, mountain lion harvests peaked in 1998 with 776 taken. That harvest steadily dropped until 2006, when 287 were killed by hunters. At least 480 were taken during the 2011-2012 season, up from 405 in 2010-2011.

Kujala said that FWP field staff is reporting strong lion populations, along with increased lion sightings and conflicts. FWP’s intention with the new quotas is to reduce the population. He added that in the Blackfoot and Bitterroot areas, they’ve seen a significant drop in elk and deer numbers due in part to wolves moving into the area, but also to an uptick in the mountain lion and grizzly bear populations.

Andrea Shortsleeve, a wildlife biologist from Hamilton, wrote that she supports the tentative quota increases in Region 2, saying the proposal is “based on excellent science and is integral to the larger picture of wildlife management in western Montana.

“The biologists in Region 2 have shown a clear need for reducing carnivore populations in order to stabilize ungulate populations,” Shortsleeve wrote. “The method and reduction in population this proposal suggests follows sound science and strong data … the rationale and logic for such a proposal is well-documented, explicit and convincing.”

The Broadwater County Commission in Townsend asked for even more lions to be harvested in Region 3 than what was being proposed.

“Recently, several Broadwater County constituents brought forward concerns over the growing number of mountain lions showing up in an agricultural neighborhood,” the commission wrote. “Multiple examples were given of horses being attacked near barns, elderly being advised to stay inside after dark, mountain lions at school-bus stops and children kept from fishing as there were multiple cat sightings.

“One rancher was advised there would be no action taken against these fearless cats until there was a ‘population explosion.’ We argue that ‘population explosion’ is happening now.”

Others urged FWP to postpone changing the quotas until further studies are done, saying the tentative numbers are “arbitrary.”

“The quota increases seem to be in response to a few interest groups’ hysteria that lions and wolves are killing too many elk,” Emily Post of Butte wrote. “Predators take weak and young prey animals, ultimately strengthening the health of prey populations. Hunters aim for trophy bulls and healthy adults, which does not mimic natural selection to improve species health.”

Yet others were incredulous that mountain lions are still being hunted at all.

“As a frequent visitor to Montana I find it appalling that you still consider antiquated methods for dealing with wildlife management …” said Robert Watkins of Ohio. “My God, here is the last vestige of any wildness left in the lower 48 and you want to HARVEST it?”

The FWP Commission will take up the matter at its June 14 meeting in Helena. The comment period for the tentative proposal ended last week.

Reporter Eve Byron: 447-4076 or eve.byron@helenair.com. Follow Eve at Twitter.com/IR_EveByron

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