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Mountain lion backlash

Since the story ran Monday on the Bemidji PIoneer Web site and in Tuesday's newspaper about a Bemidji resident striking and killing a young mountain lion on Carr Lake Road, I have received a number of calls, e-mails and a letter criticizing DNR practices and accusing the DNR of secrecy about the existence of mountain lions and of misleading the public.

One set of complaints is that the DNR has told people there are no mountain lions in this area. Sightings can't confirmed unless paw prints, fur or some other physical evidence is available. Even photos aren't considered confirmations because they can be rigged. For example, some months ago, someone sent around e-mails of a photo of a mountain lion standing next to the Lake Bemidji State Park sign. It was obviously photoshopped.

I have also received complaints that the DNR denies people's reports of mountain lion sightings with the suggestion that the animal the caller saw was a dog or that the caller was "seeing things" orimagining the sighting. That has not been my experience. I called with a mountain lion sighting about four autimns ago. The mountain lion had zipped across Beltrami County Road 5 in front of my car. I saw it for probably 2 seconds, but the long, thick tail - almost as long as the animal's body - and the cat-style running convinced me. I called the DNR and talked to a wildlife specialist who accepted my report respectfully. Although my sighting couldn't be confirmed by phtsical evidence, the specialist acknowledged that there are some mountain lions in the area.

The other rumor going around is that the DNR has imported and released mountain lions to cut down the whitetail deer overpopulation. I have asked more than one DNR officials about the claim. They told me the DNR has released grouse or prairie chickens in western Minnesota and, many years ago, reintroduced fishers in Itasca State Park to control porcupines. No mountain lions. One specialist said a radio-collared mountain lion was spotted in this area some time ago, but the animal had been collared in the Black Hills of South Dakota and had wandered here from out West.

I talked to someone today who said a DNR official had told him/her 15 mountain lions had been released near here, but that the DNR doesn't want people to know. I asked for a written affidavit from this official who reported the releases before I would consider the claim. The response was that officials don't want to put it in writing, but the caller would see about getting written testimony.

I also need physical proof of the claim. Until then, I believe the DNR officials I have known for years and have called on for expertise, not something that sounds like an "urban legend" transferred to rural northern Minnesota.