WEST GLACIER — A mountain lion caught recently in a wolf foothold trap set on the southwestern boundary of Glacier National Park was turned loose by state wildlife officials, but the National Park Service employee who discovered the animal and reported it to game wardens was caught the following day when he sprang a second trap in the same area.
The seasonal employee discovered the trapped mountain lion Jan. 19 along the Middle Fork of the Flathead River just outside of the park boundary, which is defined by the high-water mark on the north side of the river. The park employee was conducting wildlife research and reported the trapped cougar to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials.
Erik Wenum, an FWP wildlife specialist, responded to the scene near Harrison Creek and darted and released the mountain lion. He also issued a trapping violation to the trapper for exceeding the amount of exposed bait permitted as an attractant. According to the state’s wolf trapping regulations, no trap may be set within 30 feet of an exposed carcass or bait that is visible from above, a measure intended to minimize the number of raptors unintentionally caught in the traps.
FWP Warden Capt. Lee Anderson said the park employee returned to the area with a park ranger the following day and, while attempting to show the ranger where the incident had occurred, accidentally sprung another trap, which caught the bottom of his heel. The employee, who was wearing waders, was not injured.
“He was able to pop his foot out of the trap and it wasn’t a major incident,” Anderson said. “It was in an area right along the boundary of the park where trappers can legally trap.“
Glacier National Park spokeswoman Denise Germann said a National Park Service investigation into the trapping incident is ongoing. She could not comment on the findings of the investigation, but said it will determine whether or not the traps were indeed set outside of park boundaries.
Germann said that while the park recognizes trappers’ legal right to trap along the park boundary, there is a concern for visitor safety.
“Visitor safety is always a concern to us, but we understand and respect that trapping is a legal activity outside of the park boundary,” she said.
Unintentional captures by wolf foothold traps are not unusual, and Anderson said he could think of four instances this wolf trapping season in which mountain lions were caught in the Flathead Valley. It is also not uncommon for bobcats and coyotes to be captured unintentionally in wolf sets, he said.
Recognizing the problem of unintentional captures, FWP adopted an 8-pound trap pan tension requirement this wolf hunting season to minimize non-target captures of smaller carnivores like lynx, which is federally listed under the Endangered Species Act, as well as marten and fisher.
In Montana, wolf trappers are required to report unintentional captures, and the animals are required to be released.
Anderson said wardens typically use a catch-pole or tranquilizer dart to subdue a trapped mountain lion while they assess its overall health and check for foot damage before releasing the animal.
As of Tuesday, hunters had killed 110 wolves in Montana this wolf hunting season while trappers have killed 67, exceeding the number killed last year.