Photo credit: Dreamstime

Three adult cougars were recently removed from Wild Horse Island State Park in Montana. The decision came after state and tribal authorities deemed the animals a “public safety issue due to high density and habituation,” according to KRTV News.

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (MTFWP) worked with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) after receiving reports from landowners and visitors. The island, which spans 2,163 acres, is located at the southern end of Flathead Lake. The MTFWP and CKST feared their presence would impact “one of the largest conservation herds of Rocky Mountain sheep in the nation.”

Due to the location of the island, the bighorn sheep have no escape from the mountain lions.

“In addition to 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 in North America,” said Neil Anderson, MTFWP Regional Wildlife Officer. “Due to the lack of escape ground for bighorn sheep and the number of lions on the island, the bighorn sheep population has been reduced to numbers we haven’t seen in decades.”

Wild Horse Island’s bighorn sheep herd is considered disease-free and healthy – numbering over 560 animals. The herd is being used to establish new herds and help others recover with 26 bighorn sheep moved from the island to the Tendoy Mountains in southwestern Montana last year.

“The mountain lion and other cats, such as the bobcat, are of significant cultural importance to tribal members and are not hunted on the Flathead Indian Reservation,” said Kari Eneas, CSKT wildlife manager. “Our puma populations are healthy, and in this unique situation, we have considered the habitual behavior and animal density of all wildlife species on the island in our decision to cooperate with FWP.”

The skins and skulls will be used by CSKT for educational purposes.

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