GREAT FALLS — Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks recently killed and removed three adult mountain lions from Wild Horse Island State Park in collaboration with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes.
FWP received reports of lion sightings from landowners and visitors, indicating that the lions were habituated to people. The presence of several lions on the island, which spans 2,163 acres on the south end of Flathead Lake, created a public safety issue due to the high density and habituation, according to a news release from FWP.
FWP and CSKT were concerned about the impact to one of the nation’s most important conservation herds of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, which have persisted disease-free on the island for nearly a century. Although Wild Horse Island provides high-quality habitat that supports a sheep population that has produced some of the largest rams in the world, it has no escape terrain from mountain lions.
In the last half century, more than 560 sheep have been moved from Wild Horse Island 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 to help reestablish a herd in that area.
Bears and lions have been sporadically documented on the island over time, but 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 Neil Anderson, FWP regional wildlife manager. “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 Kari Eneas, CSKT wildlife manager. “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.”
Montana is home to a robust population of mountain lions. FWP has a long-standing policy of not relocating a habituated mountain lion. Research shows that lion relocations are largely unsuccessful in preventing the lion from returning, or it creates new territorial conflicts with other lions. Removing the lions from Wild Horse Island does not impact the overall population in northwest Montana.
The hides and skulls from the mountain lions were transferred to the CSKT for educational use.