Opponents worry removing the quota will result in overharvest of the big cat
An association of southeast Idaho houndsmen say the Idaho Department of Fish and Game is declaring war on mountain lions with a proposal to remove all statewide mountain lion harvest quotas.
According to The Herald Journal, the Idaho Fish and Game Commission plans to approve a proposal during a special meeting in Boise on March 18 that would remove all mountain lion harvest quotas from the 31 of approximately 100 hunting units in the state that have such restrictions. Hunters would then be allowed to kill an unlimited number of the big cats.
According to Idaho Fish and Game, removing the quotas will provide consistency in harvest management throughout all hunting units in the state.
Jesse Vanleuven, president of the Eastern Idaho Houndsmen Association, worries that removing the quotas will be detrimental to the mountain lion population. He says quotas are essential for preventing overharvest, especially during winters with heavy snowfall and in areas with easy access.
Vanleuven and his fellow houndsmen use bluetick, redbone, and treeing Walker coonhounds to chase mountain lions. But he says most houndsmen choose not to kill the mountain lions they hunt because they simply enjoy working with the hounds and the thrill of the chase.
In addition to providing consistency, Fish and Game says removing the mountain lion quota will reduce predation in areas with underperforming deer or elk populations such as southeast Idaho.
Our region is known for the quality of deer hunting and our herd in recent years has declined in relation to hard winters, said Dan Garren, supervisor of the Idaho Fish and Game Southeast Regional Office. We've come out of those winters and the deer herd has not really responded the way we thought it would and so we're trying to find ways to improve the herd in the Southeast Region.
Garren says removing the quota is part of a two-part plan to help improve the deer population. The first part includes a proposal to remove all youth and archery doe hunting opportunities in the Southeast Region.
That takes care of the human element that could be impacting the local herd, Garren said. The other part is to try and reduce mortality associated with lions and to do that we need to reduce the lion abundance and this proposed regulation is consistent with that goal.
The Southeast Region has operated under a mountain lion quota system for at least the last two years, which, depending on the unit, ranges from as few as three male lions to as many as eight and as few as five female lions to as many as nine.
The mountain lion season runs from Aug. 30 to March 31 in Idaho, and hunters are prohibited from using hounds between Oct. 1 and Nov. 30.
Vanleuven told The Herald Journal if the quota system is removed, Idaho would become the only one of 13 western states that allow unlimited mountain lion harvesting.
When it comes to sustaining an animal population, quota systems have been proven to work throughout the West, said Vanleuven, who lives in Menan, Idaho. Here in Idaho, we have regions that don't have quotas but it's because of the limitations to access, winter closures or proximity to urban areas and private property that tend to hold more cats. But for East and Southeast Idaho, access is relatively easy and my biggest fear is that the removal of the quota system statewide will result in a significant local overharvest.
Vanleuven says the quota removal feels like a slap to the face because for the last two years the Eastern Idaho Houndsmen Association members have worked closely with Idaho Fish and Game to try and develop a system for estimating the local mountain lion population.
Fish and Game Southeast Region wildlife manager Zach Lockyer explained how the houndsmen have helped Fish and Game.
Over the last two years, we have been working with houndsmen to deploy GPS collars on mountain lions, Lockyer said. This was step two in a project to come up with a technique to estimate lion abundance, with the first two years involving the use of remote trail cameras and DNA samples. Then the last two years we complemented that with GPS collars and the houndsmen worked very hard and were instrumental in making that happen.
The members of the Eastern Idaho Houndsmen Association feels betrayed that Fish and Game would propose the elimination of mountain lion harvest quotas without consulting them.
Vanleuven said, We absolutely feel slighted. It was about two weeks after we collared the last cat that the proposal came out to remove the quotas and it was shocking to me that (Fish and Game) would make this determination without reviewing the results of the study.
Vanleuven noted that a majority of the GPS collars failed five or six months into the devices' 22-month life expectancy, preventing them from reporting the data needed.
Lockyer said he hoped eliminating mountain lion quotas wouldn't negatively affect the positive relationship between Fish and Game and local houndsmen.
Local houndsmen have been great to work with and I think we have a solid relationship, Lockyer said. There is also a large number of deer and elk hunters in this state that have been disappointed in recent years. While there are some houndsmen who dislike this proposal, I hope we can maintain a positive relationship and continue working with them.
Big game regulations are revisited every year. All regulations approved next month will be in effect for the 2021-22 hunting season.
To me, even one year is too long, Eastern Idaho Houndsmen Association member Nick Muckerman said. If I got together with 10 or 15 houndsmen and we went to a game management unit with good access and good snow and we all separated out, within just a couple days we could kill 80 to 90 percent of the cats up there. The tables can turn so quickly because the tracks in the snow make them very vulnerable. It's basically declaring all out war on the species and it just makes no sense to me that Fish and Game wouldn't propose raising the quotas before outright eliminating them.