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Saturday, March 24, 2018

Photos courtesy of Cindy FrankPhotos courtesy of Cindy Frank

Security cameras catch glimpses of cougars around town (Slideshow 2)

By Jason Stuart

Ranger-Review Staff Writer

They are elusive and rarely seen in the flesh by humans, but modern technology has twice in the past month or so captured their image in and around Glendive, proving without a doubt that there are mountain lions among us.

Nighttime security camera footage from a couple of different locations around town twice caught mountain lions on film in September. The first was from a residence in the Hillcrest subdivision within the city limits, while the second was spotted in security footage from a business located on the Circle Highway just outside of town.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Region 7 biologist Melissa Foster said she has seen the pictures from one of those cameras and verified beyond any doubt that it was a mountain lion in the photo. She added that she has also received other pictures from the Glendive area in the last couple of weeks by people who were also convinced they saw a mountain lion, but those have turned out to be other things like bobcats. Nevertheless, Foster said locals need to be aware that mountain lions are out there.

“It’s definitely something to be aware of. Take precautions with your pets and keep your eyes and ears open,” Foster said.

That being said, Foster added that people really don’t have all that much to fear from the local mountain lion population.

“I wouldn’t recommend that folks change a whole lot about their day to day life,” she said.

The fact that they were caught on film at night — rather than in broad daylight like the cougar that ran into a Miles City residential neighborhood a few weeks ago — suggests that they were just doing what mountain lions do, according to Foster.

“Sometimes what happens when you get these big game critters in town is they move in at night when the town is quiet,” she said. “My sense is it was probably just a critter coming through and it happened to get caught (on film).”

Foster added it’s also her sense that the mountain lions seen around Glendive so far are not posing much of a threat within the community itself.

“I don’t think that those lions are probably hanging out in town, and I don’t anticipate any problems or issues” she said, though she added “that’s a toughy without knowing more about those individual lions.”

The one photo from Glendive she has definitely identified as a mountain lion appears to be a juvenile, Foster said. Local resident Cindy Frank, who caught the one on film at her office out on the Circle Highway, said she showed her pictures to a friend who traps up on the Hi-Line and he also identified the lion in her photos as a juvenile.

Foster said that like human teens, young mountain lions are more likely than adults to put themselves in difficult situations with poor decision-making.

“My guess really is it was just a juvenile, and juvenile animals are about the same as juvenile humans,” she said.

As for why they might be seen so close to town, even just at night, Foster had a couple of potential theories besides them just being young and dumb. For one, she noted that mountain lions can range for hundreds of miles, and so a few cats may have been “dispersed” towards the Glendive area from all the fires burning across Montana this summer. 

There are also simply more mountain lions out on the landscape today than in years past, Foster added. She noted that FWP did not open up a mountain lion season in Region 7 until 1991, and the quota for that first season was one cat. Today, the Region 7 quota is 45 lions, but Foster said hunters have not hit that quota in several years.

“There’s definitely a population that has been well on the recovery path over the last 30-plus years,” she said.

Another possible factor is this year’s drought. Foster said that might be driving more deer into town in search of green forage and water, and so the mountain lions “may be following that prey.”

Frank said that theory makes perfect sense to her, given all the deer she sees out by her office.

“We’ve got deer that run right through our property out there, and (mountain lions are) going to come in and feed,” she said.

However, Foster said as long as no pets are coming up missing from the area and there are no livestock predations, FWP isn’t going to take any steps to remove the mountain lions that have been spotted around Glendive. If that were to happen, then they would. She also noted that it is “legal to take” a mountain lion that is seen to be threatening humans, pets or livestock.

Frank, for her part, said unless the mountain lion she caught on film did start killing pets or livestock, she would just as soon see it left alone. In fact, she said she’d love to see the big cat in person, albeit at a safe remove.

“I’d still like to see it in person ... from a distance,” Frank said.

Foster added that from FWP’s perspective, having a healthy mountain lion population out in the wild is mostly a positive thing, both because they act as population control for deer herds outside of hunting season and also themselves provide big game hunters with another unique and challenging hunting opportunity.

“There’s kind of an intrinsic value in having lions on the landscape,” Foster said.

Reach Jason Stuart at rrreporter@rangerreview.com.

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