Though mountain lions once roamed the hills and forests of Idaho, persecution at the hands of humans drove them locally extinct. If we support open space conservation and preserve corridors connecting potential habitat, we could reverse this situation and bring mountain lions back home to Idaho.
Although mountain lions may be physically capable of living in an area, human activities and attitudes could keep them from reestablishing a population there. Fragmentation, sport hunting practices, and intolerant communities can wipe out mountain lions from any area. For more data on habitat use, check out our various Science tabs.
The state of Idaho encompasses approximately 82,474 square miles (213,607 square km) of land. Of this, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) estimates that 97 percent, or roughly 80,000 square miles (207,199 square km), of the state is potential mountain lion habitat. This habitat estimate might be excessive. Using a Gap habitat analysis map to ascertain the amount of mountain lion habitat in each of Idaho's mountain lion management units (MLMUs), MLF researchers were only able to identify 49,314 square miles (127,722 square km) of potential lion habitat.
Mountain lion populations appear to be distributed throughout most of the state, though their numbers are likely sparse in the open landscape of the Snake River Plain.
Idaho game officials refuse to make any official estimate on the number of lions currently residing within the state. This is hardly remarkable, since a population estimate would raise the possibility of public scrutiny and accompanying criticism if their annual hunting quotas proved to be statistically excessive.
Back in 2008, Steve Nadeau, IDFG's Large Carnivore Manager, made a presentation on the status of Idaho's mountain lions at the Ninth Mountain Lion Workshop (a conference for state game managers). At that time, he postulated that "given an estimated harvest rate statewide of approximately 15-20% (estimated to stabilize the population), we would back calculate and estimate a state population of about 2,000-3,000 lions."
While that explanation may sound reasonable, what Mr. Nadeau is essentially saying is that since IDFG wants to believe (without the necessary scientific evidence to back that belief) that Idaho's lion population is "stabilized" they simply took the number of lions killed during a particular hunting season, and arbitrarily assigned a 15 to 20 percent designator to that number which they then used to determine a lion population total that has nothing to do with reality.
If IDFG were honest about managing Idaho's mountain lions for sustainability, then they would first determine to the best of their ability (using scientifically accepted protocols such as habitat and prey availably, all mortality numbers and other research data) a defensible lion population estimate, and then use that number to ascertain whether or not the hunting levels are appropriate for a stable population.
Based on the limited information available, MLF's best guess places Idaho's mountain lion population closer to possibly 2,000 or less.