Missoula mountain lion sightings prompt discussion of urban deer


MISSOULA, Mont. - Mountain lion sightings in Missoula are generating more discussion about urban deer populations.

Wildlife biologists said deer that make their homes in yards and gardens are attractive feed for cougars.

Sunday night, people reported two separate sightings just two blocks from Cold Springs Elementary School, near the 2600-block of Arcadia Street behind Walmart.

Mountain lion sightings have also been reported up Gharrett Street, and in the Miller Creek area.

NBC Montana talked with Rosemary Hubbard as she played with her dog. Hubbard's neighbors said they have seen a mountain lion. Hubbard thinks her dog Honda has too.

"You can tell if it's going to be a calm night," said Hubbard, "or whether it's going to be a night where there's something on the prowl because the dogs are just like a transmitter."

The deer in Hubbard's yard don't seem to care. But they are a favorite feed for a cougar. There are a lot of deer in this neighborhood. But they're found in urban pockets all over Missoula.

"I've got deer in my yard left and right and they're just a joy to watch," said John Swanson.

The deer have been a headache for many community leaders.

Mountain lions make people nervous. Neighborhood schools have issued mountain lion alerts.

Helena's had an urban deer plan to cull the animals. Missoula has considered a similar proposal. But that plan didn't get off the ground.

Jon Wilkins led efforts to institute a deer reduction program in Missoula. But he said Missoula city council doesn't support it. He said the kill program that Helena used is expensive.

Wilkins said there are other options besides shooting deer.

"One is birth control," said Wilkins. "But that's an option where you have to run the program for at least three or four years before you start seeing a decline in the urban deer population."

Fish, Wildlife and Parks said the city would need to institute the wildlife management plan.

"The city would need to decide that's something they would want to take on," said FWP's Vivaca Crowser.