Mountain lions in Wood River Valley

SUN VALLEY- This winter has been an interesting one for the Wood River Valley. After last year’s record snowfall, this year has nearly been the opposite, with very little snow.

Fewer elk and mule deer are calling the river bottoms home due to the open hillsides, but many of the mountain lions that prey on them are still trying to carve out a living where they were finding abundant deer and elk populations last winter.

Idaho Department of Fish and Game recently lethally removed two lions, one from the Freidman Memorial Airport and one from the Gimlet subdivision.

The mission of the Idaho Department of Fish and Game includes preserving, protecting, perpetuating, and managing all wildlife for citizens, and where possible to provide for continued supplies of wildlife for hunting, fishing and trapping.

Because of this mission, the Department focuses resources on managing populations of wildlife rather than on individual animals.

As a profession that cares for wild animals, we share in the public’s compassion. However, there are times when individual animals have undesirable interactions with humans prompting the Department to respond as a matter of public service or public safety.

Here are the circumstances under which we decided to take action at the Hailey Freidman Memorial Airport on Jan 20:

Officers received a call around 8:30 pm regarding a mountain lion on the airfield.

Options were discussed; including immobilizing the lion with a drug dart It was decided darting the lion was not a feasible option given darkness, lack of a good darting location (ideally a lion goes up a tree) proximity to the highway, and proximity to urban/residential areas. Darted animals may take more than five to ten minutes to succumb to drugs and can travel hundreds of yards after being darted; becoming difficult to find and a greater threat if they can not be contained where darted. An animal under the effects of drugs can act erratically, and dangerously.

Another considered option was to leave the mountain lion alone, and let it find its way off the airfield. However, after conferring with airport staff it was discovered that they already had to divert a commercial flight from landing, and it was circling overhead waiting for clearance to land. Leaving the mountain lion roaming on the airfield was clearly risking the safety of flights, and the option was jointly determined to be unacceptable.

Based on the above information, attempts were made to haze the animal off the airfield towards the Big Wood River. Because wild cats can be unpredictable critters, the hazing attempts failed leaving lethal removal as the realistic option to human safety.

On Jan 24, officers received a call from a homeowner in the Gimlet subdivision that a dog had been killed by a mountain lion. The lion had jumped in to a 4-ft. high enclosure affixed to the house to take the dog. The lion’s behavior in this event creates concerns that the lion was becoming too habituated to human residences and public safety concerns.

A live trap was set near the home and baited with a deer that had been killed by a predator elsewhere in the Valley.

On Jan 25, an adult female mountain lion was trapped and euthanized on site. A thorough inspection of the cat revealed she was old and in declining health. The cat’s canine teeth were ground to stubs and she was missing several incisor teeth.

While each circumstance is unique, human safety is always a top priority Idaho Fish and Game considers in the decision making process when responding to wildlife that have undesirable interactions with humans.

It is advised that people should be aware that wildlife travel river corridors, and should take precautions for their livestock and pets in evening and nighttime hours.

Mountain Lion in tree
Creative Commons Licence
Photo by Mike Demick