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Mountain lion debate just won't go away

By MEGHAN PIERCE
Union Leader Correspondent

October 15. 2017 8:24PM
A Facebook page has been set up by a Greenville resident to record mountain lion sightings. (FACEBOOK)



Mickaell Watts of Greenville said she started a Facebook page on reported mountain lion sightings in the area because she was seeing posts online and wanted to set up a central place for people to document their experiences.

“This way, everyone can try to stay safe while hiking, or keep their pets and kids safe,” Watts, 29, said, acknowledging the wildcat is thought to be long extinct.

Despite years of reported sightings, state officials said there is still no evidence mountain lions exist in New Hampshire.

Fish and Game biologist Patrick Tate said it is very common for people to believe they have seen a mountain lion when they have seen a bobcat, which has a short tail.

Between 2004 and 2015, Tate said, Fish and Game took about 400 reports of mountain lion sightings. He said in the past few year he has received 20 to 30 reported sightings.

“We base our information on physical evidence. In my experience there has been an inordinate amount of mountain lion sightings that were misidentified native animals,” Tate said. “Fish and Game can’t go by sightings alone. We have to go by physical evidence as to not create public alarm.”

For example, “A large predator like that would be eating white tail deer and moose,” he said. Fish and Game closely tracks deer and moose populations, and has seen no sign of such predation.

Biologists collect scat and fur samples after reported sightings but have never found mountain lion DNA, he said. In every case, it was either a dog, coyote, bobcat or raccoon, according to Fish and Game. Despite the evidence, some people still believe mountain lions exist in New Hampshire.

Tate said it’s a frustrating subject, especially when people accuse Fish and Game of denying or ignoring sightings when the department does its best to follow up on credible reports.

“I’m trying to prove these people right, not wrong,” Tate said.

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the eastern cougar that once lived throughout the northeastern United States was officially deemed extinct in 2011 after decades of no sightings.

Tate said it is not out of the question that a male mountain would venture from a western state into the Northeast. In fact, one did in 2011 and ended up being struck and killed by a SUV in a heavily populated area of Connecticut.

Evidence of a mountain lion that turned up in Massachusetts just a few months prior to that is believed to be the same mountain lion, Tate said. It could have made its way through New Hampshire, he said.

Tate said females will only travel about 30 miles from where they were born.

Jackie Hayes Skidmore of New Ipswich posted on the “Greenville/New Ipswich area mountain lion sightings” Facebook page that both she and her late husband have seen mountain lions.

“I know what I saw and it was really big. It looked right at me,” Skidmore said. “I know what bobcats look like. This was not a bobcat. It had a very long tail.”

Skidmore said she lives near Pratt Brook on seven acres with trails on both sides of her house — part of a wildlife corridor that connects to the Wapack National Wildlife Refuge in Greenfield.

“Where I live there is nothing but wilderness,” she said. “I don’t hike alone anymore. I used to be out there every day ... The bears don’t scare me, but the big cats do.”

The Facebook page had 156 members as of Sunday evening.



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