Monday, November 20, 2006

Montana warden feels mountain lion may be gone

It appears perhaps the mountain lion, which has been spotted on three separate occasions in the area of Fifth Street S.W. near Johnson Park (the old tennis courts), has moved on.

“We ran the trained dogs several times this week, and we didn’t have any new sightings or fresh tracks, so we believe maybe he moved on,” game warden Matt Strozewski said.

Extra patrol from all area agencies have been devoted to the area where the three sightings took place earlier this week.

Each report was of a solitary animal that was seen crossing Fifth Street S.W. between the well house adjacent to Johnson Park and Lone Tree Creek. The mountain lion was sighted at approximately 6 p.m., 10 p.m. and 6:30 a.m.

“We as a rural community understand these situations occur from time to time, but it’s the location of the mountain lion which is cause for concern. The walking path has been shut down, and the school is on alert,” Sidney Mayor Bret Smelser said.

Precautions being taken at West Side School include no students are permitted to access the westside of the playground near the shrubbery. Students are restricted to the east side of the playground, and teachers have been instructed to closely monitor the fence line for any evidence of the presence of the animal.

West Side School was informed the mountain lion may have been sighted in the vicinity of the west portion of the school property and that resulted in the playground restrictions. Teachers have been instructed to stand in between the students on the playground and the fence line during recess time.

“I want to ensure the community that the safety of the students is a preeminent issue with the trustees and school district,” Sidney School Superintendent Doug Sullivan said. “We are confident the environment at West Side Elementary is safe for the students and staff of the school district.”

Sullivan welcomes any further communication from concerned individuals. For any questions about this issue related to the Sidney Public School District, call the district administration office at 433-4080.

“It’s unusual for a big cat to hang out that close to town. Usually in these situations the animal is put down because of the unusual behavior,” Strozewski said.

Though the animal has not been located, searchers reported signs of a possible large male mountain lion.

Barricades were erected on the walking path in Sidney behind West Side School near where the mountain lion was sighted. Because the area of Fifth Street S.W. where the mountain lion was spotted is a popular walking path for many area residents, the public is advised to use extreme caution in this area.

Officials have asked the public to report immediately to law enforcement if a sighting occurs.

The public is cautioned not to take action or attempt to capture this animal, but to contact law enforcement right away to increase the odds of capture if a sighting occurs again.

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