Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) joined up with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) and made the decision to lethally remove three adult mountain lions from Wild Horse Island State Park after they were spotted on the island by visitors to the area, according to a press release sent out late Friday.
The lions were killed during January and February and were removed in part to protect the island’s prized sheep herds. With the land mass spanning only around 2200 acres, their presence would have been destabilized the population:
FWP and CSKT were concerned about the impact to one of the nation’s most important conservation herds of Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, which have persisted disease-free on the island for nearly a century. Although Wild Horse Island provides high quality habitat that supports a sheep population that has produced some of the largest rams in the world, it has no escape terrain from mountain lions.
It is unsure how the mountain lions got on the island, but it is speculated that they trekked across the ice when the bay temporarily froze. They further note that “in the last half-century, more than 560 sheep have been moved from Wild Horse Island to establish new herds and augment existing populations across the U.S. Last year FWP moved 26 bighorn sheep from the island to the Tendoy Mountains in southwest Montana to help reestablish a herd in that area.” Neil Anderson, FWP regional wildlife manager explained the decision:
Alongside prioritizing public safety, we felt it was important to protect one of the few disease-free bighorn sheep herds because of the role it plays in the greater conservation of the species across North America. Due to the lack of escape terrain for bighorn sheep and the number of lions on the island, the bighorn population has been reduced to a number we haven’t seen in decades.”
The animals will live on in some form, however, with the release noting that “The lion hides and skulls from Wild Horse Island were transferred to the CSKT for educational use.”