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This Week in Fish and Wildlife: Houndsmen helping study elusive mountain lions in Montana

Posted at 12:22 PM, Jan 05, 2024

Montana has a mountain lion population spread out across most of the state. Because these big cats are so elusive, however, studying them takes some time and some help. MTN's Chet Layman talks with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks about its ongoing mountain lion study, continuing this winter in the Gallatins.

BOZEMAN — If you've spent any time in Montana’s backcountry, there is a chance you were near a mountain lion. They are elusive, far roaming, but difficult to find. This winter, FWP is continuing a 5-year effort to study Montana mountain lion populations, this year in the Gallatins, with a little help from experienced houndsmen.

“Fish, Wildlife and Parks working closely with experienced houndsmen to go out and use hounds to tree mountain lions, then they use darts to capture a genetic sample of those lions,” said Morgan Jacobsen, information and education manager for Montana FWP Region 3. “And we use that genetic sample along with genetic samples we've taken from hunter harvested lions over many years to put together a more accurate picture of what these populations are like, how they're doing, what their numbers are, what their distribution is.”

This an example of another of those important partnerships FWP has with members of the community. For a study like this, it simply couldn't happen without a little help.

“It’s not like we can get in an airplane and go and count them like we do for elk where they're all congregated down at lower elevations this time of year. Mountain lions are very dispersed; they're very elusive and that makes things a little more challenging when we're trying to survey them. So joining partners such as houndsmen to be able to accomplish this is absolutely essential,” said Jacobsen.

“Ultimately, what the goal is is to help us better understand how those populations are doing, and how can we strike a balance with having healthy mountain lion populations as well as, you know, conflicts and other needs that may, that do occur around the state with having predators on the landscape. So it’s a very dynamic management need and research is essential to that process,” he added.

Researchers will be out with the houndsmen in the Gallatins until late spring, which runs in conjunction with the winter mountain lion hunting season that concludes on April 14.