For the week of February 3, 1999  thru February 9, 1999  

Fish & Game hosts public meetings

Hailey mountain lion problem on agenda

Express Staff Writer

j27couger.jpg (11708 bytes)Cougars, also known as mountain lions, such as the one pictured here, share the Wood River Valley with its human residents. According to Fish and Game estimates seven or eight of the big cats are wintering along the Big Wood River. Residents along the river are blaming the lions for the disappearance of house pets.  (Express file photo)

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game will host a meeting in Hailey next week to gain public input on several proposals, including the opening of a mountain-lion season in the Wood River Valley.

Department representatives will also address proposed big-game rules for 1999 and review area wildlife-management goals. The meeting, one of a series to be held around the state, will take place Wednesday, Feb. 10, at the old Blaine County courthouse at First and Croy in Hailey.

Fish and Game regional conservation educator Mike Todd said the mountain lion topic could be interesting.

"These lions have become too habituated to people," he contended.

Regional wildlife biologist Bruce Palmer said this will be the second time that opening a mountain-lion hunting season in the Wood River Valley will be discussed. It was discussed at last year’s Fish and Game open-house meetings as well.

Palmer said mountain lion hunting is currently not permitted in Unit 48, which extends from south of Hailey to north of Ketchum on the west side of State Highway 75 and from Trail Creek to Galena Summit on the east side of the highway. Lion hunting is permitted in Unit 49, on the east side of the highway south of Trail Creek.

It is one of only three Fish and Game units that does not allow cougar hunting, Palmer said. The reason for that, he added, is that historically Wood River Valley residents have not approved of killing the animals, particularly in close proximity to the human-populated valley floor.

A topic of discussion at the meetings, Palmer said, is the question: "Is there a good biological reason for keeping that section closed?"

He said the meeting is not designed to directly respond to a recently emerged local concern about lions, sparked by north-Hailey pet losses, but that "it’s kind of working out that way."

Palmer said the mountain lion situation in Hailey is "not so unusual." Other parts of the state have similar problems, he said.

Palmer said the lions here have not been hunted and consequently have not found much reason to fear man, but rather have adapted to the populated area.

He added that people involved in the situation have probably "overreacted a bit."

The mountain-lion issue will be only a small part of the meeting, however. The six Magic Valley wildlife management areas will be examined in terms of long-term management plans.

The presentation and discussion on the management plans, said Palmer, should take up more than 50 percent of the meeting’s time.

Objectives, based on earlier public input, will be examined. Species-management priorities, land practices, public access and desired future condition of the areas are among the issues.

Habitat personnel are looking for comments from hunters, fishermen and others regarding these public properties, Todd added.

Five or six biologists will be at the open house and displays on specific projects will be presented, Palmer said.

Additional topics to be discussed will include final department recommendations regarding deer, elk, antelope, lion and bear hunting. Also, big-game hunting opportunities for youths will be discussed as an enticement for young hunters to take up the sport, and input will be sought on the new landowner-appreciation permit program.

The landowner-appreciation permit program will make landowners who own more than 640 acres of "significant wildlife habitat" eligible for increased odds when it comes time to draw tags, Fish and Game landowner/sportsman coordinator Steve Elam said.

To be eligible for this program, landowners must allow reasonable public and hunter access to their property without charging a fee, and the property must provide significant habitat for the species they wish to hunt.

Elam said the program should benefit all parties involved: the hunters will have more animals to hunt, the landowners will have wildlife on their land and increased odds when it comes time to draw hunting tags and the animals will have more habitat on which to live.


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