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HELENA (AP) – Montana fish and game commissioners on Wednesday imposed restrictions on most of the out-of-state mountain lion hunters who flock to Montana’s most popular lion country.

The move by the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission is intended to reduce the number of early season hunters in northwestern Montana forests, a crush that has led to too many cats being killed.

The commission, voting 3-2, limited the number of licenses to kill lions that will be available to out-of-state hunters using their own dogs to track the cats. The permits are capped at 10 percent of the total quota of lions that can be killed in each district throughout the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks’ Region 1. The region is in northwestern Montana.

The restriction does not apply to out-of-state hunters who hire outfitters, and puts no limits on the license numbers available to Montana hunters. Nor are there new restrictions on hunters who simply chase lions.

The new regulations will take effect when the lion season starts Dec. 1.

In approving the plan, commissioners made use of a law passed this year that gives them authority to reduce the number of out-of-state lion hunters in the northwestern region of the state.

The new law was in response to concerns about rising competition from nonresident hunters, who account for almost half the harvest of cats in Region 1.

Because

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the popularity of the area draws large numbers of in-state and out-of-state hunters, lion quotas are reached quickly in some of the hunting districts. In those cases, state officials give 24-hours notice that lion hunting season will close, but additional cats often are killed before the deadline.

Biologists report that quick termination of lion seasons has created a practice among hunters in which they race to kill any lion, for fear the season will close before they get one. The result is that too many females and young lions are killed. The average age of cats in the region dropped from 6 years to 3 years between 1993 and 1997.

The commission considered an option that would have prohibited out-of-state hunters from chasing lions during the first two weeks of the season but dropped the idea when told by sportsmen that most nonresidents come to Montana to kill lions, not simply chase them.

Some cat hunters joined Commissioners Tim Mulligan of Whitehall and Darlyne Dascher of Fort Peck in questioning whether limiting the number of cats that can be killed by some out-of-state hunters will solve all problems in the northwestern lion country.

They said the restriction will not eliminate the rush to kill lions before a quota is reached, and will shift the troubles of Region 1 into neighboring areas as out-of-state hunters look for places with fewer restrictions.

To reduce the chances that lion quotas in a district will be exceeded after officials give 24 hours warning of a season closure, commissioners unanimously decided officials need provide only 12 hours notice.

Copyright © 2001, Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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