South Selkirk Cougar Ecology and Predation Progress Report
FISH & WILDLIFE
SOUTH SELKIRK COUGAR
ECOLOGY AND PREDATION
Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation
31 January 2002
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH
Washington State University
South Selkirk Cougar Ecology and Predation
December 1998 to October 2001
Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program
103-333 Victoria St.
January 31, 2002
Co-operators: Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program
Columbia Basin Trust
Ministry of Water, Land, and Air Protection
Washington State University
Special thanks go to Dave Lewis and Stuart Hawes for the time spent searching and
collaring cougars and Dave Mairs of Silvertip Aviation for collecting aerial telemetry
location data. John Gwilliam and John Krebs for technical assistance. Ian Parfitt and
Tasha Kirby for creating the GIS maps from the telemetry data. Don Katnik and Hugh
Robinson, both Washington State University graduate students for their contribution with
telemetry data collection and cougar capture respectively. Thanks to Darkwoods
Forestry, Beaumount Timber, Stagleap Ranch, Jerry Nellestijn, and Kevin Maloney for
permission to access their property during the course of the three winters. Thanks to the
houndsmen - Dave Basaraba, Gerry Brown, Mike Dawson, and Rob Kuny who
participated in and supported the project.
Table of Contents
Results to Date
Appendix 1 - Houndsmen Protocol
Appendix 2 - Immobilization Protocol
Appendix 3 - Capture Data Form
Appendix 4 – Examples of Individual Cougar Home Ranges
Figure 1 - South Selkirk Study Area
Figure 2 – All telemetry Locations to October 31, 2001
Figure 3 – Cougar, Mule Deer and Caribou Distribution
Figure 4 – Cougar Harvest Data for M.U. 4-07 and 4-08 (1977-1999)
This progress report for the South Selkirk Cougar Ecology and Predation Project presents
the preliminary findings for the first 36 months of field activity up to October 31, 2001
and outlines the direction to the end of the project. Initially the study area encompassed
the area between the Salmo River and the Kootenay River and from Porcupine Creek
south to the Canada/USA border. In the second year the study area was expanded north
to include the south shore of the west arm of Kootenay Lake totaling 2630km2.
Expansion was necessary to try to increase the sample size and more accurately overlap
the South Selkirk Caribou’s northern range.
A total of sixteen (9F, 7M) cougars were collared over the course of three years using
houndsmen and trained cougar hounds. Cougars were treed 51 times during the threeyear period (20 on the Creston side, 29 on the Salmo side, and 2 on the south shore of the
West Arm of Kootenay Lake).
We have obtained a total of 1313 aerial telemetry locations from 16 individual animals
radio collared between December 1998 and March 2001. Mean annual home ranges
(100% MCP) were larger for resident males (744km2) than for resident females
(642km2). There was no overlap in the annual home ranges among males but there was
overlap with several female home ranges. Dispersal of juveniles was evident from radio
locations of 3 females and 2 males. One female traveled 198 km from her natal area.
Three of 7 mortalities were legally kill by cougar hunters.
The majority of collared cougars remained at relatively low elevations with only brief
movements to higher elevations during the summer. Preliminary analysis indicate that
only 2 (1F,1M) of the 16 collared cougars exhibited seasonal overlap with caribou. In
1999 there were two collared caribou mortalities attributed to an individual collared
The focus for the remainder of the project will be to monitor existing collared animals,
attempt to monitor female reproductive status, experiment with “hair grabbers” to
determine relative abundance through DNA analysis. A final report will be completed in
In 1998, the Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program (CBFWCP) in
partnership with the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT), and Ministry of Water, Land, and Air
Protection (MWLAP) initiated a cougar ecology and predation study in the South Selkirk
Mountains (SSM) south of Nelson, B.C. (Woods 1998). Caribou in the SSM had a high
rate of mortality during the summers of 1995 to 1997. Mule deer in the same study area
also had significant losses to cougars in 1997. In order to reduce or reverse the losses of
caribou and mule deer to cougar predation it was determined that there was the need to
gather information on the South Selkirk cougar population, prey selection, habitat use,
and general ecology. A parallel effort to determine cougar ecology and management
requirements is currently underway in the SSM portion of Washington State and Idaho
(Katnik 1998). In the British Columbia and Idaho portion of the study area hounds can
be used to hunt cougars whereas in Washington State hounds are not allowed. The
characteristics of hunted cougar populations have been described in other studies in Idaho
(Hornocker 1969, 1970; Seidensticker et al. 1973), Wyoming (Logan 1985) and Alberta
(Ross and Jalkotzy 1992) but differences in hunting regulations in the three jurisdictions
may have implications on home range sizes, movement rates, and population parameters
such as reproduction and recruitment.
This progress report represents the first 36 months of field activity up to October 31,
2001 and summarizes field priorities in 2001-02 for cougars collared on the BC portion
of the study area. The CBFWCP and the CBT have provided funding for year three of
1) Determine the distribution and movement patterns of cougars in the South Selkirk
2) Determine the seasonal habitat selection pattern of cougars in the SSM.
3) Investigate the overlap in habitat use of cougar, mule deer, white-tailed deer, and
caribou with particular emphasis on the June to October period of high caribou
4) Identify specific cougar, which may be the cause of high caribou mortality during
The study area for the 1998/99 capture season was between the Salmo River on the west
side of Kootenay Pass east to the Kootenay River and from Porcupine and Cultus Creeks
south to the Canada/USA border (total area 1555 km2). The study area was expanded
during the 1999/2000 capture season (Figure 1) to include the area north to the West Arm
of Kootenay Lake between the Pend d’Oreille River on the west side of Kootenay Pass
east to the Kootenay River (total area 2630 km2). Expansion was necessary to try to
increase the sample size and to monitor any cougars that may overlap the South Selkirk
Caribou’s northern range south of the West Arm of Kootenay Lake. The area is within
the western portion of Fish & Wildlife Management Unit 4-08 and includes all of 4-07. It
is in the Southern Columbia Mountains Ecosection; biogeoclimatic zones include Interior
Cedar hemlock (ICH; xw, dw, mw2), Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir (ESSFwc4) and
Alpine Tundra/Engelmann Spruce-Subalpine Fir (AT/ESSFwcp).
The study area encompasses two Provincial Parks, three Forest Licenses, Darkwoods
Forestry private land, and Small Business Forest Enterprise Program cutting areas. The
southern portion of the study area is bisected by Highway 3. Cougar hunting within the
study area is significant.
Tracking, Trailing, and Animal Capture
Cougar tracking, trailing, and treeing was carried out by local houndsmen from the
Nelson, Castlegar, Trail, and Creston area. They were given a “Houndsmen Protocol”
(Appendix 1) detailing handling and responsibilities of the dogs on the project. The
fieldwork was weather-dependent and only those days that were determined to be good
for tracking by the field biologists working with the houndsmen were utilized.
An “Immobilization Protocol” (Appendix 2) was also developed for the safe handling of
the cougars and the safety of personnel in the field. Telezol was used for the
immobilization at a concentration of 7mg/kg using a 3cc dart with a ½” barbless needle.
Delivery of the drug was carried out using a “Cap Chur” gun with a brown charge.
Provisions were made to lower immobilized cougars out of a tree if necessary with the
use of climbing spurs and ropes although it was unnecessary during any of the captures.
Once immobilized the cougars were ear-tagged in both ears with numbered rototags
(NASCO; Modesto, Calif., USA), sexed, and examined for reproductive status and
general condition. We identified cougar age classes (kitten, young adult and mature
adult) by size and tooth wear and colour. DNA samples were collected. The cougars
were then fitted with radio-collars with a four hour mortality delay (Lotek Engineering,
Inc. Newmarket, Ontario LMRT-4). The collars were modified to include a canvas insert
designed to rot through after ~ 2 years to free the cougar of the collar. Information
collected during the capture, immobilization, and collaring can be found on the capture
data form attached (Appendix 3). Safety of the field personnel and the immobilized
cougars was given the highest priority.
Cr ee k
Figure 1. Selkirk Cougar Study Area
Columbia Basin Fish and Wildlife Compensation Program -- April 03, 2002
Cougar Study Area - 3045 km2
Scale: 1:500,000 - Map Projection: UTM Zone 11 - Datum: NAD 83
e l l y
u l t us
Gr o h
La i b
Lower China Creek
Po r c up i ne
Sa n ca
2 000 Mtn
49 30 N
00 e k
20C r e
Na r r o
Go o e
H al l L
2 0 00
2 0 00
116 30 W
117 00 W
117 30 W
49 00 N
Efforts to collect habitat and movement data were coordinated with parallel efforts in
Washington State. Attempts were made to locate the cougars from the air in the winter
using a Cessna 337 with an average of two flights per month from November through
May and during the same flight used to track the radio-collared mule deer within the
Salmo/Creston Study Area. Summer flights were shared with Washington State staff and
Washington State University Ph.D. student with an average of three flights per month
from June to October.
Location data collection followed the methodology used in the West Kootenay Mule
Deer Project (Gwilliam 1998) and included: UTM co-ordinates (NAD 27 in the United
States and 83 in Canada) and Forest Cover Polygon Label (Species, Age, Height, Crown
Closure). Location data precision was assumed to be +/- 100m based on similar aerial
telemetry work done on wolverines in Revelstoke (John Krebs pers comm). Ground
telemetry locations were conducted frequently to get general locations and movements
and to classify kills of radio-collared cougars where possible. Ground telemetry was
done on an opportunistic basis by Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation
(CBFWCP) staff and summer students.
Home range analysis for individual cougar home ranges (Appendix 4) was determined
using 100% Minimum Convex Polygon (MCP) (Mohr 1947). The minimum number of
radio locations used for annual home range calculations was 25. Seasonal periods
(winter and summer) were delineated on the basis of annual weather characteristics
(Hemker 1984). Cougars were considered residents once the areas in which they moved
became predictable over a minimum of four months (Ross and Jalkotzy 1992). Habitat
analysis will be undertaken at the second order level (Johnson 1980) to compare seasonal
habitats with the total area available to the cougar as defined by the collective home
ranges of all the cougar upon completion of the study.
Results to Date (Table 1)
A total of sixteen cougars were collared (includes 1 recollar) over the course of three
Capture conditions during the winter of 1998/99 were less than ideal. Good snowfalls
followed by mild wet weather and rain in the latter part of February made for a very short
season. The last good snowfall for trailing occurred during the first few days of March
Five cougars (3F; 2M) were collared during the 1998/99 field season. Four cougars were
collared during December 1998 and one during March 1999. A cougar hunter in Trout
Cr. northwest of Bonners Ferry, Idaho killed the only cougar that was collared on the
Creston side on February 15, 1999. The cougars appeared to be concentrated on whitetailed deer winter ranges and to a lesser extent mule deer and elk winter ranges.
Capture conditions during the winter of 1999-00 were very good. Cool temperatures and
moderate snow depths and frequent snowfalls allowed for good tracking. Snow
conditions started to deteriorate by the end of February.
Six cougars (4F;2M) were collared during the 1999/00 field season. One cougar was
collared in December 1999, four in January, and one in February 2000. A young female
was collared west of Creston, a family group (female with 3 older kittens) were collared
in the Pend d’Oreille, and a mature female was collared east of Nelson.
Capture conditions during the winter of 2000-01 were generally good. A low snowpack
resulted in the ungulates being relatively dispersed however tracking was generally good.
Again conditions had deteriorated by the end of February.
Six cougars (3F;3M) were collared during the 2000/01 field season. One young female
cougar that had dropped her collar was recollared in November 2000. Four cougars were
collared in January 2001, one east of Nelson, two in the Pend d’Oreille, and one west of
Creston. One cougar was collared west of Creston in March 2001.
Table 1. 1999-2001 South Salmo Cougar Capture Summary
Cougars were treed 51 times during the course of three capture seasons (20 on the
Creston side, 29 on the Salmo side, and 2 on the south shore of the West Arm of
Kootenay Lake). Only 2 cougars were treed on the Creston side during the first year of
the study which was representative of the low cougar population that exists there at that
time. Cougar numbers appear to be higher on the east side of the Kootenay River outside
the study area (Dave Basaraba pers. comm.). Of the 35 cougars that were treed and not
• eleven were not in a safe position for immobilization (examples include; cougars
being too high to immobilize, darkness)
• two cougars took cover in a cave
two came out of the tree and swam across the Pend d’Oreille River
eleven were already collared
two were treed in Idaho
three were kittens that were too young to be collared
one died from an adverse affect of the drug
two were not immobilized due to capture equipment malfunction
one tom was killed by a houndsmen when the cougar attacked one of his hounds
Some of the treed cougars that were not collared for various reasons were retreed and
collared at a later date. Local cougar hunters treed the majority of the collared cougars at
least once subsequent to collaring.
We have obtained a total of 1313 radio telemetry locations from 16 individual animals
radio collared between December 1998 and March 2001(Figure 2). Data sources include
both CBFWCP telemetry locations and WSU graduate student telemetry locations.
Movement of the radio-collared cougars during the winter was limited to low elevation
mule deer winter range in the Stagleap/Lost Creek area, white-tailed deer winter range in
the Rosebud Lake/Salmo River/Pend d’Oreille area. Along the south shore of the West
Arm of Kootenay Lake in the north end of the study area, movement was limited to
white-tailed deer winter range. Winter movements on the east side of the study area were
on white-tailed and mule deer winter range in the Dodge Creek area north to Midge
Creek. Summer movements were highly variable with respect to distance traveled and
elevation gain. The majority of cougars spent most of their time at low to mid elevations
with brief movements into the higher elevations.
Cougar, Caribou, and Mule Deer Interactions
Because the majority of collared cougars remained at relatively low elevations with only
brief movements to higher elevations during the summer (Figure 3), there was limited
interaction with caribou. Preliminary analysis of the radio collared cougars indicate that
only 2 (1F,1M) of the 16 collared cougars exhibited seasonal overlap with caribou and
this overlap occurred during only during the summer. In 1999 there were two collared
caribou mortalities and possibly a third that was attributed to an individual collared
cougar and no confirmed caribou mortalities attributed to cougars in 2000 or 2001(Jon
Almack pers. comm.). From 1995 to March 2000 twenty-nine radio collared caribou
mortalities have been recorded. Seven of those were attributed to cougars (Almack
2000). There was considerably more overlap with mule deer particularly on the Creston
side of the study area where the overlap was year round. On the Salmo side of the study
area, there is overlap during early spring through early winter.
Figure 2. South Selkirk Cougar Telemetry Locations
Figure 3. Cougar, Mule Deer and Caribou Distribution
Mean annual home ranges were larger for resident males than for resident females.
Home range size varied widely among individual cougars (Table 2). The average size of
7 resident female annual home ranges was 642 km2 and ranged from 126 to 1075 km2.
The average size of 5 resident males was 744 km2 and ranged from 280 to 1231 km2.
Table 2. Annual home range size (km2) of radio-collared cougars in the South Salmo
River Study Area, 1998-2001.
Number of Cougars
Home Range (km )
126 - 1075
280 - 1231
Annual home ranges for individual females overlapped extensively and in some cases
completely during the winter. There was no overlap in the annual home ranges among
males noted but there was overlap of individual males with several female home ranges.
Winter home ranges for both sexes were restricted to relatively small, low elevation
white-tailed deer winter ranges and to a lesser extent mule deer winter ranges. Seasonal
shifts in home ranges were observed for the majority of both female and male cougars.
The timing of their seasonal movement corresponded to the movement of both whitetailed and mule deer off their winter ranges.
Dispersal of juveniles was evident from radio locations of 3 females and 2 males. A
cougar hunter killed one female approximately 198 km from her natal area. Two sibling
males and an unrelated female traveled from their natal area in the Pend d’Oreille to the
Creston side of the study area a distance of roughly 60 km. A female traveled from her
natal area in the Pend d’Oreille to an area southeast of Priest Lake, Idaho, a distance of
approximately 90 km. Only two juvenile females remained within their natal areas.
A total of eight mortalities were recorded to date; three (2M,1F) legally kill by cougar
hunters, one male killed as it was identified as killing two caribou, one male died from
internal injuries from killing calf bull elk, one female died from complications from the
Telazol, one male died from starvation, and one female of unknown cause. Five cougars
dropped their collars; four rot-off strips rotted through (the rot-off strips were cut on three
Figure 4. Cougar Harvest Data (1977 - 99) for M. U. 4-07 and 4-08
of the collars because the animals were still growing) and one slipped its collar at a kill
Recorded cougar mortality, from MWLAP harvest data (Warkentin 2000) for the period
1977 to 1999 are shown in Figure 4 for Management Units 4-07 and 4-08. Of the 140
mortalities in the 22 years, 78 (56%) were males, 60 (48%) were females, and 2 (1%)
were unclassified. These figures represent cougars that were killed by hunters, animal
control, illegal kills and animals that were picked up (found dead).
Aerial and ground telemetry was used in an attempt to confirm reproduction. It was
noted that during early July 2001 female cougar 7231 was remaining in the same location
for at least two weeks. Through ground telemetry we were able to pinpoint her location
and we were able to find her den site. Two male kittens approximately five to six weeks
old were found in the den. Further aerial telemetry the following day revealed that she
moved her kittens approximately 3 km from the original den site. This female at the time
of collaring in December 1999 had three (2M,1F) older kittens that were also collared
and had dispersed by the spring of 2000.
Kill Site Investigation
Fifteen kill site investigations from radio-collared cougars were made during the course
of the study to date (Table 2). Kill sites were opportunistically located using both aerial
and ground radio telemetry. When collared cougars were stationary for two or more days
it was assumed that the cougar was on a kill. If practical the area was investigated for a
kill. Fresh snow over tracks limited the investigation of kill sites during the winter.
Table 3. Summary of Kill Site Investigations
The Discovery Channel came in December 1998 to film the project for their Animal
Tracks program that was aired in March 1999. Freelance writer/photographer Matt
Jackson wrote articles on the project for the Canadian Wildlife and Wildlife Conservation
magazines. Jeff Turner, a filmmaker for the BBC has expressed interest in the study for
filming cougar behavior in the wild for a BBC documentary on cougars.
A library of project slides has been started for the cougar project and will be housed in
the Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Compensation Program office in Nelson.
Proposed Activities for 2001/02 Fiscal
1) Attempt to recollar a female with two kittens that dropped her collar this past
summer. Opportunistically collar individual cougars in the South Salmo River area
as these cougars have the highest potential to impact the South Selkirk Caribou
2) Maintain telemetry flights of radio-collared cougars in conjunction with radiocollared mule deer to determine home range size, habitat selection, and survivorship.
3) Obtain snow-trailing data from radio-collared cougars to determine habitat use.
4) Kill site investigations to determine seasonal prey selection
5) Attempt to monitor female reproductive status.
6) Attempt to determine the density of cougars in the SSM through experimenting with
the use of “hair grabbers” for DNA analysis
7) Assemble GIS databases (Forest Cover, Trim, TEM) and obtain data on seasonal
distribution of ungulates within the study area.
Management recommendations for cougars in the SSM should be incorporated in the
final report at the end of 2002/03 fiscal.
Almack, J.A. 2000. Mountain caribou recovery in the southern Selkirk mountains of
Washington, Idaho, and British Columbia. Prog. Report, October 1998 – March
2000. Washington Dept. of Fish and Wildlife, Olympia. 31pp.
Gwilliam, J. 1996. West Kootenay mule deer ecology and habitat use in the South
Salmo River Area. Working plan. 10pp.
Hemker, T.P. 1984. Cougars in southern Utah. Journal of Wildlife Management.
Hornocker, M.G. 1969. Winter territoriality in mountain lions. Journal of Wildlife
Hornocker, M.G. 1970. An analysis of mountain lion predation upon mule deer and elk
in the Idaho Primitive Area. Wildlife Monograph 21. 39pp.
Johnson, D.H. 1980. The comparison of usage and availability measurements for
evaluating resource preference. Ecology 61(1): 65-71.
Katnik, D.D. 1998. Effects of habitat on cougar predation of endangered mountain
caribou. Ph.D. Thesis Proposal, Washington State University. 31pp.
Logan, K.A. 1994. Characteristics of a hunted mountain lion population in Wyoming.
Journal of Wildlife Management 50(4):648-654
Rausch, R.A. and A.M. Pearson. 1972. Notes on the wolverine in Alaska and the
Yukon territory. Journal of Wildlife Management 36:249-268.
Ross, I.P. and M.G. Jalkotzy. 1992. Characteristics of a hunted population of cougars in
southwestern Alberta. Journal of Wildlife Management 56(3):417-426
Seidensticker, H.G., IV, M.G. Hornocker, W.V. Wiles, and J.P. Messick. Mountain lion
Social organization in the Idaho Primitive Area. Wildlife Monograph 35. 60pp.
Warkentin, B. 2000. 4-07 and 4-08 cougar harvest data. Ministry of Water Land and Air
Woods, G. 1998. South Selkirk cougar ecology. Ministry of Water Land and Air
Protection. Project Work Plan. 10pp.
Appendix 1 – Houndsmen Protocol
Once a cougar has been treed and the immobilization personnel has arrived all dogs must
be controlled by their handlers. All dog leashes must dog chew resistant by having chain
or cable attached to the lower section of the leash. This will ensure that no loose dogs are
able to disturb a immobilized animal. Depending on situation the personnel
immobilizing the cougar may or may not want the cougar hounds present at the time of
immobilization, depending on how well the animal is treed. Once the call has been made
to remove the hounds the handlers will be responsible for securing the dogs at least 100m
from the captured site, to reduce stress to the cougar. Once the cougar has been collared
and is recovering from the immobilization the houndsmen may leave with their dogs to
reduce stress even farther.
Firearms during captures are permitted with strict judgment for it's use, either for
euthanasia for a dog or cougar depending on the situation. But no cougar hunting will be
permitted during any capture effort.
Once the cougar has been immobilized houndsmen may be asked to aid in the handling of
the animal such as weighing or recording data. During this time caution will be taken to
minimize stress to the animal so it's best to keep as quiet as possible during this
Appendix 2 – Immobilization Protocol
When a cougar has been treed a decision has to be made whether to immobilize the
cougar, tree it again, or walk away.
Factors to Consider for Immobilization
1) How high up in the tree is the cougar - Maximum height ~ 10m
2) Can you get a clear shot with the dart
3) Where will the cougar land when it falls out of the tree
Situations to Avoid
1) Steep slopes which will increase the chance of cougars being injured when they fall.
2) Objects such as stumps, wood debris, and windfalls. If possible remove any debris
that the cougar may land on if it falls out of the tree.
3) Immobilizing near highways, streams, rivers, and reservoirs to minimize the risks to
the animal when it is coming out of the drug. If animals are immobilized in these
situations then the animal should be moved to a safe location to recover from
Once the animal is immobilized it may be necessary to climb the tree to lower the animal
by a rope. Extreme care should be taken not to climb directly under the cougar in case it
falls out as you are climbing.
When the cougar is on the ground it should be placed on the “blue foamy” and blind
folded. Remove the magnet from the collar before putting the collar on the cougar.
Record the frequency. With the biopsy punch make one hole in each ear. Put samples in
sample bag and label. Place one rototag eartag in each ear in holes made by the biopsy
punch. Record tag number and colour. Estimate age and weight of the cougar. Fill out
as much of the capture form as possible. Stay with the cougar until it comes out of the
drug and can not be approached any more.
Appendix 3 - Capture Data Form
SELKIRK COUGAR CAPTURE DATA SHEET
Sex M F
MEASUREMENTS AND SAMPLES
IMMOBILIZATION AND MONITORING
Type of delivery;
Appendix 4 – Examples of Individual Cougar Home Ranges
Appendix 4.1 Home Range of Cougar 6431
Appendix 4.2 Home Range of Cougar 6531