Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Twin Cities cougar making rounds of suburbs

Twin Cities cougar checking out Stillwater now

Cat continues its eastward trek through northern suburbs

By Mary Divine
Updated: 12/16/2009 12:01:06 AM CST

The cougar making the rounds of the northern suburbs the past couple of weeks apparently headed east to Stillwater. The cougar was last spotted crossing Washington County 5, north of Minnesota 36, about 10 p.m. Friday, said Dan Stark, wolf specialist for the Minnesota Department of Transportation, and was headed east.

Officials said they believe the cougar spotted in Stillwater was the same animal that had been seen in Champlin and Vadnais Heights.

"I think it's unlikely that there is more than one cougar roaming around the Twin Cities," Stark said. "Based on the track size, they seem pretty consistent."

Stark said he spent several hours Saturday following the cougar's tracks in the Willow Lake Nature Preserve near Vadnais Heights. The last place he spotted tracks was on the highway right-of-way on the east side of U.S. 61 about 270 yards north of Interstate 694.

"I followed the tracks on the west side of Highway 61 for about a mile through the nature preserve before the cougar jumped a fence and crossed the highway," he said. He said it appeared the cougar was following deer tracks.

Stark collected scat, urine and hair samples from the nature preserve and said he was certain the creamy-buff-colored hair samples belonged to a cougar. He planned to send them to a lab in Missoula, Mont., along with a scat sample he collected in Champlin. The samples should determine whether it was the same cat and could hold clues to its origin.

Stark said a cougar could easily travel 10 miles — from Vadnais Heights on Wednesday night to Stillwater on Friday night — in two days.

Residents of the Croixwood housing development in Stillwater called police Friday night to report they had spotted cougar tracks in their yards. Doug Forster, who lives in the 1100 block of Pinewood Trail, was at home about 9 p.m. when his doorbell rang. A young neighbor, Vince Christianson, was reporting he'd just seen a cougar in his front yard, Forster said.

The cougar bounded across Doug and Leslie Forster's front yard and then went along the north side of the house to a wooded area just behind their home, next to Washington County Highway 5, Forster said.

"It looked like it came from Long Lake," he said. Forster said he and his wife have spotted deer and snapping turtles in their yard, but never a cougar. "I'd rather not have it there," he said.

Police said paw prints also were found around Sunrise Park, Croixwood Boulevard and Bethany Evangelical Covenant Church at 6490 N. Stillwater Blvd.

The prints were "very large" and measured more than 5 inches across, according to police reports. A DNR conservation officer who documented the tracks reported they were 3 1/2 to 4 inches across, Stark said.

Some of the tracks showed gaps of about 7 to 8 feet, where it appeared the animal had been running; other tracks were 3 feet apart, where it appeared the animal had been walking, police said.

Anyone who sees the cougar or cougar tracks is asked to call their local conservation officer or local police.

Meanwhile, officials with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources reported Tuesday that a Cedar Rapids man had killed what was believed to be the first wild female cougar found in the modern era.

Iowa DNR furbearer specialist Ron Andrews said Monday's kill, coupled with earlier documentation of wild males, suggested there was a possibility the cats could naturally reproduce in Iowa. However, he said the cats' scarcity and human intolerance make that a long shot.

Raymond Goebel Jr. said he saw the 125-pound cat on a tree branch about 15 yards off the ground while hunting south of Marengo, in east-central Iowa.

Goebel said it took him about 40 minutes to confirm that shooting the cougar would be legal and that the landowner did not object. He said he intended to memorialize the cat in a full-body mount.

Chris Niskanen and the Associated Press contributed to this report. Mary Divine c


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