MISSOULA, Mont. - Runners and people walking their dogs noticed they had company on the south end of Mount Sentinel. On Sunday afternoon a mountain lion appeared near the "MoZ" trail near the entrance to Pattee Canyon.
After a brief stare-down, both humans and lion went their separate ways.
This was not the first time that a lion has been hanging around the UM golf course. Management says deer carcasses are found on the course every year.
On the other side of Maurice Avenue, property owner Marianne Forrest says she has seen deer kills several times -- with signs that the attacker was a lion.
This sighting comes less than a month after a slew of sightings in mid-October prompted Missoula County Public Schools to urge parents to walk their children to the bus stop in the South Hills. Another sighting in September prompted a similar alert.
What you notice right away when you're near the site where the lion was spotted is the amount of deer in the area. At the line between wilderness and city limits, mountain lion appearances highlight the urban deer issue. While close proximity to wild places means predator encroachment will always occur, the deer population makes such occurrences more likely.
Urban deer not only attract mountain lions and other predators, they pose a driving hazard and damage landscaping. Whitetail deer can become highly territorial, putting them in conflict with their human neighbors.
Incidents between humans and deer resulted in an aggressive deer management plan being put into place in Helena in 2008. With oversight by Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the Helena Police Department captures and euthanizes urban deer. The meat is taken to local food banks. The plan aims to keep the population to around 380 deer inside the city limits; or about 25 deer per square mile.
In Missoula, management plans have been nothing but talk. City Councilman Jon Wilkins states that the city needs help to food the bill for such a plan. FWP doesn't even know how many deer are inside the city limits.
In order for any plan to move forward, Montana law states the city must take the lead on developing a plan and have it approved by FWP. Wilkins feels that there is little public interest in such a plan at this time.