This mountain lion paw was found in a wolf trap in the Bitterroot Valley. The animal is presumed to have died after it escaped.

The State Crime Lab has determined the mountain lion’s paw found in a trap in southern Ravalli County last April was not a hoax, said Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials.

“The State Crime Lab looked at it and determined the cat’s paw came off on its own,” said FWP Warden Captain Joe Jaquith. “It is a weird one. It’s not something that we see very often.”

The trap containing the mountain lion’s paw was brought to the attention of FWP by Cal Ruark, a former president of the Bitterroot Houndsmen Association and now a mountain lion advocate.

Ruark said a friend discovered the trap and paw while antler hunting in the Reimel Creek area, east of the Sula Ranger District office. Ruark’s friend said there were deep claw marks in a tree near the trap where the mountain lion stood up on its back legs and tried to climb.

At the time, Ruark said he was certain the mountain lion did not survive.

There were some who doubted Ruark’s story and called it a hoax.

Jaquith said the department took a hard look at the situation, including tracking down the trapper who owned the trap.

Register for more free articles
Stay logged in to skip the surveys

“We know where the trap was set and we know who the guy was who set the trap,” he said. “We can’t be 100 percent certain on how it moved, but we know it started out at point ‘A’ and ended up at point ‘B’.”

Non-targeted species, like mountain lions, sometimes do get caught in traps.

“More often than not, when a trapper finds a lion in his trap, they call us and we help them release it,” Jaquith said.

Jaquith said FWP officials did hear people suggesting the incident had been set up.

“We did look at it and tried to verify it one way or another,” he said. “With the evidence that we have available to use, we can’t say that this was set up. There’s nothing to support that.”

There are no plans to file charges against anyone, Jaquith said.

Reporter Perry Backus can be reached at pbackus@ravallirepublic.com.