There have been some mountain lions in the news again recently, time for some education. As I am heading out the door for the Thanksgiving holiday, this will probably be my last blog post until next week. So, you will have plenty of time to look this one over; while you are at it, please take some time to watch this.
Large predators are fascinating. There is no doubt that all you have to do is mention mountain lions and you will have everyone’s attention. Since I work for the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission, even though I am a fisheries biologist, you better believe I have heard it all when it comes to mountain lions in Nebraska. I attended a public meeting once where there was standing-room-only and when asked for a show of hands of how many people there had seen mountain lions, over half the attendees raised their hands (I have no idea what I am doing wrong, I would say I spend a lot of time in the field and I have not seen one yet). In many cases there is a lot of misidentification, misinformation, hysteria and just plain “baloney”–please, WATCH THE VIDEO! You will see Sam Wilson, our furbearer and carnivore biologist as he is referred to, and our video production and Outdoor Nebraska radio “guy” do an excellent job of showing and explaining the FACTS about mountain lions in Nebraska. If the video is not enough there is even more information here, http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/wildlife/pdfs/NEland_puma_09.pdf , and here http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov/wildlife/wildlife_species_guide/mountainlion.asp .
Back to the video. . . let me make some comments. . . . I have talked to Sam Wilson on occasion and he told me that when mountain lions were extirpated from Nebraska over a hundred years ago, the last confirmed sighting was in the Pine Ridge area. If you “fast forward” to 1991 when there was again a confirmed sighting of a mountain lion in Nebraska, that cat was found very near the exact location of the last confirmed sighting over a hundred years previous. That is fascinating and proves the Pine Ridge area is mountain lion habitat (“Habitat is where it’s at”!).
Let me insert a personal spin here. At approximately 2 minutes and a few seconds into the video, Sam begins talking about some radio-collar tracking that has been done of mountain lions in South Dakota’s Black Hills. The video goes on to tell you that in 2006 one of the young radio-collared males from there was killed by a vehicle near Valentine. Guess who recovered that radio collar and the skull from that cat? Yep, it was me. We were in Valentine to celebrate the 4th of July weekend with family, and at supper the first evening I was told they knew where there was a mountain lion carcass. I was thinking, “sure, here we go with another wild mountain lion story”, when they mentioned the cat had a radio collar. That got my attention as I knew South Dakota had been putting radio collars on Black Hills mountain lions. After supper we jumped in the vehicle to go see this carcass. We drove right where they said it would be, pulled off the road and as soon as we got out of the vehicle I could tell something had died, it stunk. We walked down the hill a few yards and there laid a mountain lion carcass complete with radio collar! I could not believe it!
The head was laying a little farther down the hill.
I grabbed the radio collar and the skull so they would not disappear and made sure they were delivered to Sam so he could pass them along to his fellow pointy-headed wildlife biologists in South Dakota. As I recall the cat was a young male that had been caught by a trapper in or near Custer State Park the previous Christmas Eve. The South Dakota biologists had tracked the cat until early the next March when it disappeared. Apparently, that young male “left home” at that time and went a-wandering only to be hit and killed by a vehicle near the Niobrara River east of Valentine in the summer of 2006. And then relatives of mine knew about it, and I happened to be there to grab the skull and radio collar!
Anyway, watch the video and you will know the real facts about mountain lions in Nebraska. When the topic comes up around the Thanksgiving dinner table, you can drop some facts on your friends and family!
You would not believe some of the stories I have heard about mountain lions in Nebraska. I have talked to folks who were convinced, no way they were going to change their mind, that mountain lions are being stocked in the state. One time I even pulled off the interstate at a fast food restaurant in the middle of Iowa and overheard folks there telling the same stories! Their barber’s second cousin’s son’s T-ball coach had seen a couple guys in an unmarked black Suburban driving back roads in the dead of night, with the lights off, and they were releasing moutain lions! No amount of questioning or discussing can change the mind of some of those people, so I have sarcastically played along in some cases. Beware, mountain loins have been stocked near all of my favorite fishing holes!
Now, I have to tell you the story about mountain “loins” instead of mountain lions. We used to host a discussion forum on our Game & Parks Commission website. During one mountain lion discussion on that forum, I do not remember what the discussion was about, something about black helicopters, aliens and computer-chipped mountain lions on a moonless night, somebody mistakenly typed mountain “loins” instead mountain “lions”. I thought it was hilarious, I spit orange juice all over my computer monitor when I read it, and tongue-in-cheek it has been mountain loins ever since when I am trying to illustrate the absurdity. All of my mountain loins stocked near my favorite fishing spots have GPS chips in them and I can sit at my computer and monitor their status. As I type this I can see that loin #224987DB180 is busy chasing someone away from a spot where I have recently been catching ______________. If you see the signs you will know you are close to one of my best hunting, fishing or trapping spots. Ha.
My family and I will be heading out to spend the long Thanksgiving weekend with family. We will feast on turkey and all the trimmings and have a lot of laughs together. I hope you all do the same. Sometime over the holiday take some time to remember all that we have to be thankful for. . . like food and family and shelter and good health and freedom and all the prosperity we enjoy. In many ways the “good ole days” are right now. For example, speaking of turkeys, I now hunt turkeys in areas I never dreamed about 30 years ago; I am thankful for that! This past year has been an excellent year on the water, one of my best ever. We have good water conditions in most parts of Nebraska right now and our fisheries are benefiting because of that; I am thankful for that. I am thankful that I have a job where I am able to do something for the health and future of our fisheries resources.
And, I am thankful that I have a job where I am able to share my passion for Nebraska’s great outdoors with so many. I will spend some time there in the next few days, and I will share my experiences with you when I get back! Have a great Thanksgiving!
Oh, yes, one other thing, I am also thankful for mountain lions, and hopefully I will get to see one in the wild one of these days!