Mountain Lions in Northwest Montana; Always There, Seldom Seen

You might use the word stealthy to describe Montana’s mountain lions. Wildlife Program Manager Jim Williams with Fish, Wildlife and Parks has his own word to describe them; ghosts.

“I’ve had lions radio collared in the past where I can hear the signal just bouncing out of my receiver, and I’m ten feet away, and I get to that bush, and there’s a track, and now that signal’s coming from 30 feet to my right under another area,” Williams said. “They’re just like ghosts.”

Williams said the lion killed in Whitefish was spotted during the day, looking in windows,”not your typical mountain lion behavior. When a lion loses that innate fear of humans, and being around high density, developed areas, we take it out.”

Williams said populations of grizzly bears and mountain lions have been growing over the past decades and the number of conflicts between wildlife and people has increased as well “and there’s also more people that live on the edges of the typically developed areas in what’s called the urban interface; they’re gorgeous places to put a home, but they’re typically in the foothills, or in the forest which puts humans in direct contact with all sorts of wildlife species,” Williams said.

He said lions predominantly prey on whitetail deer, and one way to minimize conflicts is to avoid attracting deer by not feeding them “in the first place, it’s illegal, there are statutes in Montana; it is illegal to feed deer. But what that does, if you or a neighbor are feeding in particular whitetail deer in Northwest Montana, it concentrates them artificially, and where you have a concentration of deer, you will have lions.” Keeping a well-lit yard is another recommendation so you can see if a lion is patrolling the area, and keep pets out of its way.

“In the event that you do see a lion, and the lion seems to be interested in you, our advice, whether it’s here in Montana, or in Texas, California, or even Patagonia South America, it’s the same; make yourself look larger, let them know you’re a person and not a deer,” Williams said lions operate mainly at dusk and dawn and have a huge range; males home range covers 150-square-miles, females 80-square-miles. He said if a lion’s been spotted frequenting a property, especially in town, trapping and relocating it is not an option.

“We do have rare instances where an animal, a lion, takes up residence under a deck, or an old storage barn, we typically remove those cats. We do not transplant cats and move them and release them elsewhere, we typically remove them because they have a real strong tendency to come back,” Williams said.

Williams calls the mountain lion population growth in Northwest Montana a success story. He said they had become scarce around 1950 and by the 1970’s they were being managed as a big game animal. He said today the population estimate is around 500 mountain lions for northwest Montana.

More information on living in mountain lion country is available on the FWP Website.

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