Monday, November 20, 2006

Mountain lion study should help knowledge

Call them mountain lions or cougars or pumas, they're awesome animals.

It seems that the big cats are trying to establish - or more accurately, re-establish - a home range in North Dakota. The authorities are convinced they already have, that some are living here full time.

The second experimental hunting season of mountain lions here would seem to have fulfilled its purpose, five having been killed as the North Dakota Game and Fish Department allowed.

Now it's time for the scientists to do their work, finishing their analyses of the carcass data of the cougars that were turned over to them and extrapolating to the ones that still may be out there.

People legitimately may debate whether mountain lions should be hunted in the state in the first place. But we should be willing to give serious consideration to the wildlife scientists' opinions on whether this year's season should be extended because more specimens ought to be taken and if there should even be another hunt next year.

Figuring into the study must be the surprising range of the animals in the state as indicated by where the kills were made and where there has been evidence or have been confirmed sightings of them.

It's important that people not lose their cool over the fact that these large carnivores are quite apparently in our midst.

It also would be helpful if folks got over the notion that the Game and Fish people are importing mountain lions, trucking them into the state in cages. The wide-ranging cats don't need a travel agent, easily roaming into the state, probably from South Dakota and perhaps from Montana.

If we really want to have comprehensive information about mountain lions in North Dakota, the Legislature should turn loose some additional money for the Game and Fish Department's budget, allowing it the resources to do a thorough, ongoing study.

Whether cougars are just passing through or have made the state their home, there is an opportunity to discover if they can be a useful predator to help control deer numbers rather than turning to preying on livestock.

Not enough is known yet about how good a fit they might be in the present ecosystem of North Dakota.

Maybe some revelations will come from study of the mountain lions that were killed this fall.

Perhaps it's good to have them around. Maybe not.

But with more study, Game and Fish should have the basis to make that determination.

http://www.bismarcktribune.com/articles/2006/11/16/news/ opinion/editorials/124026.txt

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