Wildlife commission proposes changes to mountain lion hunting seasons | 406 Politics

Hunting mountain lions in Montana could see significant changes under a new system proposed by the Montana Fish and Wildlife Commission.

The commission is asking the public to weigh in on a plan that would split hunting between special permit holders and general license holders.

Under the proposal, 10% -30% of each hunting district would be reserved for permit holders and remaining lions would be hunted on a quota with general licenses. That would mean permit and general license holders would overlap in the field until the general license quota is filled with permittees able to hunt the remainder of the season. General license holders would be restricted to hunting one of the state’s seven regions.

Such a system, if adopted, would hybridize how mountain lions are currently hunted in the state during the winter season which allows the use of hounds.

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In much of the state lions are hunted on a quota system with general licenses, meaning anyone who purchases a license may take a cat until the quota is filled. General license holders may currently go to any open district regardless of region.

In west-central Montana’s Region 2, permit holders are the only ones allowed to hunt for the first part of the season, and then if any lions on the quota have not been taken by permittees, general license holders may hunt until the remaining quota is filled.

In northwest Montana’s Region 1, nearly all lion hunting takes place on a special permit with any surplus license, typically for female lions, then sold.

Mountain lion hunting in western Montana and particularly the northwest has a tumultuous history that led to the permit structures in place today.

Region 1 often provides good conditions for hunting lions, meaning snow to cut tracks along road systems on public lands. Under a regular quota system in place roughly 15 years ago, extensive competition led to conflicts with quotas quickly filling, and in some cases running over, as well as reports of illegal outfitting and large numbers of nonresidents hoping to tag out as soon as the season opened.

The new proposal comes from Commissioner Pat Tabor of Whitefish, who works as an outfitter and said the commission has an obligation to provide opportunity for all.

“There can’t be just one set of winners and a whole set of losers,” he said.

Under permit-only in Region 1, not all lions available to hunters with permits are killed, he noted as an chance to allow more general license opportunity.

A quota-style hunt on a general license would allow those hunters to “get in and get out” once the quota is filled. Permitted hunters who might be more likely to be selective on the size of mountain lion they target would then have the time to do so, Tabor said.

The new proposal and reissuance of a public comment period comes after the commission in December asked the public to weigh in on two other proposals: quota hunting or the hybrid system currently in Region 2.

The new proposal will go to the public as a statewide plan, but the commission may ultimately decide to use different systems in different parts of the state, officials with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks said.

“Any structure the commission adopts we can find a way to make that work with the commission’s direction,” said Brian Wakeling, FWP Game Management Bureau chief.

Tabor, acknowledging the issues under the straight quota system, indicated the goal of the new proposal would not be to return to the “race” mentality of the past. Limitations on nonresident hound handlers and restricting general license holders by region will help in that regard, he believed.

The new proposal saw a mix of support and opposition.

Supporters, including several outfitters, testified that the proposed system would help meet biological targets but that outfitting would still be limited via federal special use permits and limits to nonresident houndsmen.

A number of mountain lion hunters spoke against the proposal, saying the current permit system is working as it was designed to and has provided a far better quality hunt.

Public comment is open until March 18 at fwp.mt.gov.

Montana State News Bureau

Tom Kuglin is the deputy editor for the Lee Newspapers State Bureau. His coverage focuses on outdoors, recreation and natural resources.


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