The Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission plans to change the state’s mountain lion hunt as wildlife managers convene a new regional task force to make recommendations on cat management.
Montana mountain lion’s winter seasons using dogs are currently under three structures. In much of North West Region 1, hunters are required to hold a limited entry permit. Starting in 2020, licenses were offered separately for male and female lions with a few remaining female licenses sold in surplus. Much of Region 2 of west-central Montana uses a hybrid system with limited permits and gender-based quotas. A limited license allows a hunter to take a puma from December 1 to February 1. 1 with quota restrictions; for example, if a female sub-quota is reached, only males can be taken. After February 1, any lion hunter will be able to take a lion until the quotas are met. The rest of the state is subject to a regular quota system with general licenses.
Mountain lion hunting in Region 1 has a tumultuous history that prompted wildlife managers to institute limited permits about 15 years ago. Due to the widespread road networks and generally good snow conditions allowing dog hunters to cut the trails, quotas were often quickly filled. Reports also include non-residents entering Montana and illegal outfitting operations, creating conflict and a competitive mentality to take a lion before the quota closes.
People also read …
A variety of limited license structures have been tried over the years with varying sub-quotas for men and women. In 2020, permits were split between men and women, resulting in the highest and lowest male harvest of women in more than a decade.
FWP recommended maintaining the seasonal structure for Region 1, citing split permits only in place for one year. As with other wildlife, demographic trends are strongly related to the number of females captured by hunters.
But Commissioner Pat Tabor of Whitefish described the limited licenses as primarily dealing with the social aspect of the hunt and put forward two options for public comment before the commission makes a final proposal on cougar seasons in February. The options eliminate a simple limited permit system and ask for comment on hybrid seasons or general license quota hunts.
The public is not necessarily limited to commenting only on these proposals, for example by arguing for the retention of the current system, although the proposal aims to steer the commentary in those directions.
Tabor noted that much of mountain lion hunting takes place on public land and believed that hunting opportunities should not favor one group over another.
“There were bad players in the outfitting business, there’s no doubt about it,” he said. “There were bad actors on the non-resident dog handlers and people flocking, no doubt. And there was this hunting mentality and a lack of ethics. These things all existed and I’m here to tell you that I remember them. But that was then and it is now and now that we are looking for opportunities. “
Commissioner Patrick Byorth de Bozeman, the only remaining commissioner appointed by former Governor Steve Bullock, said the simple permit system should be included. It was recommended by FWP and has been what the public has been watching for several months, he said.
“I think the motion which is crammed with additional options at this point will not create the same amount of emotion (like the elk regulations), but it should create enough disruption that we not only consider two options, we should consider a third option which is to just stick with what the main list has said people have checked since August, ”he said.
As part of Montana’s strategy to manage mountain lions, the state has begun convening regional task forces. As biologists learn more about lions, they examine “ecoregions” – large blocks of similar habitat – and how cats function across the landscape.
FWP Wildlife Division Administrator Ken McDonald said in an interview that the first Northwest Montana-focused task force has been appointed. The habitat of the region is defined by dense forests and closed forest cover. The group, made up of lion hunters and other big game hunters and others, will help make recommendations to the public on the trajectory of lion populations, which will help biologists and the commission set quotas when trying to grow, reduce or maintain the number of lions, he said.
For more information and to comment on the puma and other hunting seasons, visit https://fwp.mt.gov/regproposals.
Tom Kuglin is associate editor of the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. Its coverage focuses on the outdoors, recreation and natural resources.