Lions, tigers and bears, oh boy!|Ed Malone||12/10/06 at 14:30:23|obadiah|xx|0||Lions, tigers and bears, oh boy!

The Outpost
John Street

You’ve probably heard the conspiracy theories about how someone (or a group of someones), is illegally (re)introducing cougars – aka mountain lions or pumas - into Pennsylvania . The nub of this theory is that cougars, as alpha predators, will have a tremendous impact on our deer herd. And when the deer herd diminishes, hunters will stop buying licenses, the Pennsylvania Game Commission will go belly-up and the Green Team will take control, ultimately banning hunting and taking away our guns.

Whether this theory has any basis in truth or is just the product of fertile imaginations is unknown. Calm and rational people from a number of different scientific disciplines seem to believe this theory is the punch line from a very stupid joke.

This is not to say there isn’t a teeny-weeny flicker of flame underneath all the smoke. There are, for instance, a few calm and rational scientific sorts who believe there are mountain lions among us but they don’t believe it has anything to do with a conspiracy; carelessness perhaps but no conspiracy.

As Vern Ross, former PGC executive director explained, “While some believe mountain lions exist in the wilds of Pennsylvania , we have no conclusive evidence to support such views.” His reference to “no conclusive evidence” meant that there have been no carcasses dragged out of the woods nor picked up alongside the road. He didn’t close the door on the possibility that people are seeing them, though.

“If someone does encounter a mountain lion,” the director said, “the most logical explanation would be that the animal escaped from or was released by someone who either legally or illegally brought the animal into Pennsylvania .” In other words, the official position of the PGC appears to be that we have no native mountain lions in Pennsylvania but an import just might be here.

According to the PGC, “ Pennsylvania ’s last known wild eastern mountain lion was killed in Berks County in 1874. And, except for Florida , the eastern mountain lion is believed to have been extirpated from the East Coast by 1900.” Given the growth of human population since the beginning of the last century, and that populations’ intolerance of big, toothy predators, the PGC’s assertion – mountains lions, if they’re here, either “escaped or (were) released” – makes a great deal of sense.

If you spread a Pennsylvania road map out where you can see the whole thing at once, it is quite obvious there’s a pile of concrete and asphalt stitched across the state. Surely, if a population of mountain lions existed somewhere, they’d start showing up as motor meat.

Despite the lack of publicity, though, one person claims that mountain lions, at least a couple anyway, have been killed on Pennsylvania ’ roads. In a letter to the editor section in a recent issue of a state-wide outdoor newspaper, Norman Davis of Galeton, who claims to “have been a cougar researcher for 13 years,” asserted that two of the tawny cats were picked up off roads in Tioga County, one near Cowanesque Lake and the other along U.S. Route 6 west of Gaines.

While parts of his letter sound credible, his assertion that other cougars – beyond the two in Tioga County - have been killed on Pennsylvania byways but witnesses were “harassed” away from the scene sounds more like part of the “conspiracy theory.” Regardless, no one else will either admit or seems to know anything about the two road kills in Tioga County .

Still, there are other calm and rational scientific people who believe the evidence is strong enough to invest time in research. According to a fellow outdoor writer (who is, by the way, real big on that conspiracy theory), a Dr. Dennis Wydre has submitted a “Scientific Study Permit” application to the PGC in order to obtain both the agency’s official blessing and a few shekels to foot the bill for his work.

At the heart of Dr. Wydre’s research effort, and the reason he had to apply for the PGC’s blessing, is a team of volunteers who have dogs trained to run big cats. Dr. Wydre hopes to establish enough different teams in enough different places across the state that they can “rush to the site of a [reported] sighting and put the dogs down.” Supposedly, although the PGC turned down his application the first time (was it because the PGC is part of the “conspiracy?”), Dr. Wydre went back with political backing and is expected to be more successful with the PGC on this, his second, application.

To make things even more interesting, there’ supposedly “a $2,000 reward to the first person who brings (in) a mountain lion carcass.” The person offering this reward, according to that same fellow outdoor writer (who, may I remind you again, is real big on that “conspiracy theory”) is Mr. Jake Kropp from over in the Williamsport area. Mr. Kropp has also offered an “additional $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in the illegal introduction of western mountain lions into our state.”

Regardless of your position on the conspiracy theory, it’s probably safe to say we have a few mountain lions in residence here in Pennsylvania . There’s enough accumulated evidence that no one, not even the Pennsylvania Game Commission, is willing to argue the feasibility of their existence, only how they happened to get here.

For my part, I hope the calm and rational scientific types are correct. I want very much to believe there’s enough wild and remote ground left in Pennsylvania that a few of these secretive cats have found a home away from the prying eyes of civilization. And I’d also like to believe, even though I agree with the position of the PGC that it’s most likely these are either intentional or unintentional releases, that somewhere in one of those wild and remote places, a mating pair has crossed paths and set up housekeeping.

It’s been a long, long time – probably since back around the Pleistocene era – since there have been any tigers in this part of the world but we’ve got a whole bunch of bears and who knows. If the global warming theories are right, maybe someday we’ll be able to say, “We got lions and tigers and bears, oh boy!”