Mountain Lion Study


small treed mt lionThe United States Fish and Wildlife Service in cooperation with Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, Rocky Boy’s Reservation, Fort Belknap Reservation, the Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit and the World Wildlife Fund, is helping conduct a research project to better understand mountain lion ecology on the Charles M. Russell National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding areas. More than a dozen mountain lions have been fitted with GPS collars in recent years in the nearby Bears Paw Mountains and Little Rocky Mountains. Data from marked animals there and other observations showed very high mortality rates, primarily from human harvest in these mountain ranges. This study was expanded to the refuge during winter 2010–11.  

Lions are fitted with GPS collars by refuge staff. The collars record a lion’s location every 5 hours, and via a timed release mechanism, drop off in one year. Researchers retrieve the collars, download the data and use the information to help characterize movements within and possible dispersal between the Missouri River Breaks, Bears Paw and Little Rocky Mountains and surrounding areas. The data will also be used to:

  • describe habitat use and selection;
  • estimate cause specific mortality rates;
  • determine the proportion of mountain lion home ranges within the refuge;
  • support the statewide population estimation project that will include estimates of area-specific densities within the Missouri River Breaks, Bears Paw Mountains, and Little Rocky Mountains.

processing mt lion


During winter 2010-2011, eight cougars were treed and 5 were successfully collared. So far, 2 of the collars have been retrieved and the location data showed a sub-adult male moved more than 60 miles east and west through the Missouri River Breaks. Hopes were to deploy several more collars during winter 2011-12, but in stark contrast to the previous year, there was very little snow for finding lion tracks. However, one cougar was successfully re-collared and another was collared for the first time. 


collared lion