Mountain lions kill collared wolves in Bitterroot

2012-05-29T06:30:00Z Mountain lions kill collared wolves in BitterrootBy PERRY BACKUS - Ravalli Republic Ravalli Republic

Mountain lions are taking a toll on Liz Bradley’s collared wolves in the Bitterroot this year.

Since January, two wolves radio-collared by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wolf biologist have been killed by mountain lions.

Last week, she found the latest dead wolf in the Warm Springs area, west of Sula.

Like all the others she’s investigated since 2009, the wolf’s skull showed a severe puncture wound – a trademark of a lion kill.

In the Sula case, the lion ate a good portion of the wolf and then covered the carcass with debris.

“It’s hard to say what happened,” Bradley said. “There was no elk or deer carcass nearby that they may have been competing over.”

There was, however, a deer carcass near the dead wolf she found in the Carlton Creek area west of Lolo in January. In that case, the wolf wasn’t consumed, but it did have the same canine tooth puncture through the skull.

“That one was probably a conflict,” she said.

Last year, Bradley found two dead wolves that were probably killed by mountain lions. One was in Davis Creek, east of Lolo, and the other was south of Conner.

In both cases, the carcasses were too far decomposed for positive identification on the cause of death. Both had clear puncture wounds through the top of their skulls.

In 2009, the first apparent lion-killed wolf was discovered in the West Fork area.

The number of wolf and lion encounters is unusual.

“I haven’t heard of it happening anywhere else,” Bradley said. “It’s pretty interesting that the Bitterroot has had so many.”

Large predators sometimes do kill each other. There have been documented cases of that happening in many places around the West.

“They compete for the same resource,” she said. “When there is overlap in areas where you have lots of prey, conflicts occur.”

Four of the five wolves that Bradley knows were probably killed by mountain lions were fitted with a radio collar.

“It’s too bad because we don’t have those now,” she said.

At the end of last year, Bradley had collars in seven packs in the Bitterroot. She’s now down to four.

“Ideally, we would have at least half of the packs collared in the Bitterroot,” she said.

Bradley estimates there are 14 packs in the Bitterroot, which includes the area around Lolo all the way down the east and west forks of the Bitterroot River.

On average, pack sizes are smaller in the Bitterroot following last year’s hunting season. The largest pack now has nine wolves. Most have four to seven adults, with several including just a male and female.

Going into the pup season, Bradley estimated that there were between 60 and 70 adult wolves in the entire Bitterroot area.

“That’s a little bit lower than what we had in 2011,” she said. “We had about 80 last year. We had some mortality.”

Bradley won’t know this year’s numbers of pups until sometime later this summer.

She is asking the public for help in locating packs for collaring this spring, especially in the Darby and Sula areas, as well as the north Bitterroot Valley.

Sightings can be reported by going to the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks website under the wolf section. For recent wolf sightings of multiple animals, Bradley asks that people call her cell phone at (406) 865-0017.

“I’m especially interesting in hearing about sightings in the Sula area right now,” she said.

If anyone stumbles across a dead wolf or mountain lion, she would be interested in hearing about that too.

Reach reporter Perry Backus at 363-3300 or

Copyright 2015 Ravalli Republic. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(11) Comments

  1. GeneWil
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    GeneWil - May 30, 2012 3:48 pm

    You said;

    "As far as wolves eating your kids...not one human has been attacked by wolves in the lower 48......."

    No, but wolves have been killing people all over the world for centuries. They will, if hungry and the opportunity presents itself, attack people.

    I missed the information about an FWP employee saying that there was "lots of prey." Unfortunately, I take whatever FWP says with a grain of salt. Some of them are radical environmentalists who would automatically say things to take the heat off of wolves.

  2. GeneWil
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    GeneWil - May 30, 2012 3:40 pm

    You said;

    "Should be "wolves and lions need to be hunted" .

    I agree. I was surprised when I came to the Bitterroot to learn that mountain lions make real good eating. I don't know how many people are aware of that. If more people knew it and FWP had extended hunting seasons for them that just might reduce their numbers.
  3. elk911
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    elk911 - May 30, 2012 10:01 am

    "They compete for the same resource. When there is overlap in areas where you have lots of prey, conflicts occur."

    Liz Bradley, Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks wolf biologist, about mountain lions that have killed five wolves in the Bitterroot Valley in the past two years.
    - Ravalli Republic

    Well, well.....finally a FWP biologist admitting there's "LOTS OF PREY"
    As far as wolves eating your kids...not one human has been attacked by wolves in the lower 48.......How many kids did Jeffrey Dahmer eat?......many..... 6 or 7 that they know of.
    I'd worry about the 140 or so registered sex predators and violent criminals in Ravalli County. It's a haven for deranged individuals and how many live here that aren't registered?????
  4. GiGi
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    GiGi - May 28, 2012 3:15 pm
    Should be "wolves and lions need to be hunted" .
  5. GeneWil
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    GeneWil - May 28, 2012 3:04 pm
    Bud: P.S.

    Unfortunately I think that you are also right about an eventual attack on a human being. I have two friends who have had deer billed within a few feet of their front doors.

    When wolves get hungry they are just like people. They look for something to eat. If the ungulates are gone they will attack house pets, especially dogs. If hungry enough they will undoubtedly attack a human being.

    Children are at special risk. I wonder what these wolf lovers will have to say when something like that happens. They will probably blame the children.
  6. GeneWil
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    GeneWil - May 28, 2012 2:57 pm

    I agree with you 200%. The wolves are responsible for the reduced numbers of ungulates in the Bitterroot. There hav always been lions and bears, but when I came to the Bitterroot there were plenty of elk, mule deer and moose. of course the whitetails were everywhere. They had begun to move higher into the mountains where mule deer were plentiful.

    It disgusts me to hear these people talking about wolves played no role in the tremendous reduction in big game numbers. Several of them are actually calling for more wolves and are angry because those predators were removed from the Endangered Species list. Can you tell me what is wrong with them?

  7. GiGi
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    GiGi - May 28, 2012 1:31 pm
    I am not a wolf lover. I favor wolf hunting in higher numbers. Mountain lions too. What I do not favor is eliminating either animal, especially wolves. I also think the agencies, state and federal, who introduced the wolves should be paying for enhanced fencing and other measures to keep top predators off livestock. Ungulate populations will improve with moderate predator pressure. But right now the predator pressure is too high and larger numbers of wolves and elk need to be hunted. If larger quotas and extended seasons don't work, other measures, less acceptable to the public, are needed.

    I don't know much about lion attacks on humans, except that in California, where mountain lions aren't hunted and people do stupid things in mountain lion country, attacks happen every few years or so. Keeping the numbers of mountain lions in check and educating the public should lower the possibility of human/lion interactions.

  8. Bud Martin
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    Bud Martin - May 28, 2012 7:35 am
    GeneWil said: "Bud:Do you really believe that, or are you just joking. I hope that it is the latter."

    It's was a joke Gene, It looks like some wolf lover took it to heart however.
    Fact it the Bitterroot valley is in a irreversible predator pit with the limited predator harvest there is no way to grow the ungulate herds. Even with the increase in the 2012 proposed harvest it is to little to late.
    At this point it is only a matter of time before there is a lion attack on a human in the bitterroot.
  9. GiGi
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    GiGi - May 27, 2012 4:33 pm
    As Bud said, if there are too many top predators in an area, they'll compete. The ungulates getting smarter is exactly what should happen in the face of predator pressure. If the wolves and lions are kept off livestock, they'll fight each other and their numbers will come into balance with the available food supply. There are issues, of course, like elk in pastures, etc., but the smarter, stronger deer and elk will be the survivors, improving the breeds overall.
  10. GeneWil
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    GeneWil - May 27, 2012 4:28 pm

    Do you really believe that, or are you just joking. I hope that it is the latter.
  11. Bud Martin
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    Bud Martin - May 26, 2012 2:58 pm
    Maybe it's the result of to many predators competing with each other for food? I doubt it however, I bet lions and wolves are just as dumb a human hunters and just can't find the deer and elk anymore because the habits of the ungulates have just changed. It's probably just easier for them to kill each other than go look for a deer or elk.
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