Two young mountain lions were shot and killed near River’s Edge Park in Columbia Falls over the weekend.
The park, which is adjacent to the Flathead River, is in a wildlife corridor. Columbia Falls police first received reports of lion sightings in the area last week. Then on Saturday, a homeowner shot and killed a lion that was prowling around their house. Columbia Falls police then shot a second lion near the park as well, but its carcass could not be found.
Police then closed the park overnight and reopened it Sunday afternoon after there was no sign of the shot lion.
Police Chief Clint Peters said he was confident the cat was mortally wounded. It was shot with a patrol rifle and the cat leapt into the air when it was hit.
Lions are game animals under Montana law. They are not protected under the Endangered Species Act. The animals are common, though typically reclusive and rarely seen.
There is evidence the lions killed a domestic cat in the neighborhood.
“My understanding is once a mountain lion claims a territory in or around a residential area, they become more of a threat to people and pets because there are no other food sources available,” Peters said. “Unlike bears who tend to be more opportunistic eaters, whether plants, wild game, or even garbage, mountain lions are hunters and meat-specific.
“Having them in a residential area is obviously a direct threat to domestic animals and even people, and there was a domestic cat carcass found that appeared to have been killed by one of the mountain lions,” Peters said. “This is a sad situation, and none of us are excited about having to dispatch a wild animal, however, our overall duty is to protect the safety of our community and this situation deemed it necessary.”
Lions have been noted in Columbia Falls before. In one instance, a lion was found up a tree in the center of the city. It was eventually dispatched.
River’s Edge Park is also frequented by other wildlife, including the occasional black bear. Whitetail deer are common in the popular park.
The carcass of the lion shot by the homeowner was turned over to the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.