Idaho has an abundant and self-sustaining population of mountain lions, and they’re an animal that Fish and Game officers and biologists deal with on a fairly regular basis during winter.
This winter is no exception.
Recent incidents have included a mountain lion killed by local sheriff’s deputies near an elementary school in Bruneau, three other lions killed in the Wood River Valley, and at least two lions released after being inadvertently trapped by licensed trappers.
These are likely signs of a healthy population and possibly an expanding one.
Mountain lions are game animals and hunting them is regulated by Fish and Game, but there is no trapping season for mountain lions.
Idaho Fish and Game conservation officers recently recorded a video when they released a lion from a trap in the Clearwater Region.
Mountain lion incidents are more common in winter because cats follow deer and elk herds, which are more likely to be found at lower elevations, and it also coincides with prime trapping season.
Ones that are inadvertently trapped when they are not near communities are typically released if it’s safe and feasible to do so.
Mountain lions are territorial animals, and mature males and females dominate the best habitat, which typically allows them to find prey and avoid people. But when young mountain lions leave their mothers, they are often pushed out of that prime territory and into areas with less prey. This often puts them closer to people. They may end up near neighborhoods and find pets a potential source of food.
When mountain lions follow deer and elk to lower elevations during winter, it also puts them in closer proximity to people, so there are more encounters.
In many cases, it’s a mountain lion wandering through an area and moving on. Sometimes it’s a younger lion that’s been driven out of its usual home range.
When Fish and Game receives reports of mountain lions near towns or homes, each case is treated individually.
If a lion appears to be getting too comfortable near people, Fish and Game officials usually attempt to capture the animal. However, the animals may be killed if officials feel the animal could be a threat to public safety. Because it’s difficult to predict whether a mountain lion will leave an area or take up residence there, officials may decide to err on the side of public safety and have the animal euthanized.