By Michael Howell
At its Thursday, January 19 meeting, the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission adopted for public comment a few proposals that would affect lion hunting and wolf hunting in the Bitterroot Valley.
FWP Regional Wildlife Manager Mike Thompson said that the agency was looking for ways to reduce predation pressure on the elk herds in the West Fork. Cow/calf ratios and population numbers have been declining at an alarming rate. In response, the agency began radio collaring elk calves last May and June of 2011 in an effort to determine the causes of mortality.
Thompson said that the monitoring program has revealed about a 50 percent chance of mortality among the calves monitored. Of the 34 calves that died up through January 4, five are classified as “unknown”, one as capture related, and three as natural. Natural could include pneumonia or being caught in a fence. The remaining 25 were from predation. Six were killed by predators but it was not possible to determine which predator. Two were killed by wolves, four by black bears, and thirteen by lions.
According to Thompson the quota for Mountain Lions in the West Fork Hunting District 250 is set at 20 with a sub-quota of three females. Unlike wolf hunting quotas, lion hunting quotas involve issuing only a set number of permits, in this case 20, and only three of those animals taken can be female. As of Monday, January 23, six lions have been harvested in the district, two females and one male, which means that a total of 14 more lions could be harvested but only one of them can be a female.
Thompson said that the change proposal adopted by the Fish, Wildlife and Park Commission on Thursday would expand the number of permitted hunters in HD 250 from 20 to 30 and increase the sub-quota from three females to five. He said the average success rate of permitted hunters is 40 to 50 percent.
Public comment on the proposed change can be made up until the next meeting scheduled for February 16, when final adoption will be considered. Thompson said that Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association representative Steve Wilson suggested at last Thursday’s meeting that the commission consider a quota system for lions like the one for wolves and not base it on a limited number of special permits.
The status of the lion hunting season in the Bitterroot Valley is closely monitored and as of Monday, January 23, looks like this:
Hunting Districts 204, 260 and 261 are combined into one lion hunting district with a quota of 20 and a sub-quota of three females. The female sub-quota was met on January 13 and is closed. Three males were also harvested, leaving 14 male lions to fill the quota.
HD 240 – with the same quota of 20 and sub-quota of three females; one female has been harvested and four males for a total of five.
HD 270 – up the East Fork with the same quota as the other districts has had one female harvested and three males for a total of four out of 20.
Another proposal adopted by the FWP Commission for consideration and public comment would change the wolf hunting season in the West Fork. The quota of 18 wolves would remain unchanged. According to Thompson, as of January 23, only four wolves have been taken in the district, leaving 14 to meet the quota. The hunting season, which has been extended twice, is now set to expire statewide on February 15. If the current proposal is adopted the hunting season in the West Fork would be extended to April 1, 2012.
Comments on this proposed change are also being accepted by FWP Commission up until the February 16 meeting, at which meeting final adoption will be considered.