How Many Mountain Lions In Alaska?

California Department of Fish and Game

Interesting story from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s newsletter,  Alaska Fish and Wildlife News, about the possible existence of mountain lions (cougars) in Alaska.

Here’s writer and information officer Riley Woodford with more:

Reports of cougar sightings in Alaska have come from as far west as the Kenai Peninsula, but the most credible reports come from Southeast Alaska, which is adjacent to known populations in Canada. Although the cats are fairly rare in northern British Columbia, biologists estimate there are about 3,500 mountain lions in Southern B.C. – and Vancouver Island has one of the highest densities of mountain lions in the world.

Cougar Sightings in Alaska

Ketchikan-based state wildlife biologist Boyd Porter said that with cougar numbers increasing in much of their historical range, it’s not surprising they would disperse and wander down some of the big river valleys flowing out of Canada. He added that males would be the most likely to disperse and look for new range.

The heavily glaciated coastal mountains are a formidable barrier to movement between Canada and Southeast Alaska. The most prominent “trans-boundary” river in Southeast Alaska is the Stikine, which cuts through the mountains and meets the Inside Passage between Petersburg and Wrangell. A little further south, the Unuk River, about halfway between Wrangell and Ketchikan, provides another narrower corridor.

Wildlife technician Micah Sangenetti works in Ketchikan with Porter. He’s familiar with both river valleys. He said a cougar could come down the Stikine, or the Unuk, which is closer but narrower. Ketchikan is on Rivellagigedo Island (often called Rivella Island for short). In either case a cat would need to cross a narrow saltwater passage, Behm Canal, to reach the island.

“The Stikine River drainage is like a superhighway compared to the alley that is the Unuk,” Sangenetti said. “The Stikine is a wide valley, which cuts through the coastal range much further into the Interior. That’s the same reason moose are making it to Mitkof and Kupreanof (Islands), whereas the Unuk River’s source begins in the Coast Range.”

The only known cougars to be killed in Alaska were taken near the Stikine River. In December 1998 a wolf trapper snared a mountain lion on South Kupreanof Island, and in November 1989 a mountain lion was shot near Wrangell.

State wildlife biologist Rich Lowell of Petersburg said he used to get one or two reports of cougar sightings each year, but it’s been quiet recently. “The last reliable sighting we received was a few years ago when a Stikine River moose hunter said he had a cougar leap down from a tree very close to him and run off. He said another hunter had also reported seeing a cougar around the same time.”