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Public's fascination with mountain lions strong as ever

Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald on

Published in Outdoors

The season in Zone 2, which encompasses the rest of the state, has no harvest limit and is open through March 31.

As with other large predators such as gray wolves, which remain federally protected in North Dakota and Minnesota, the idea of hunting mountain lions is controversial.

"We still hear from people that think we're totally off-base in having a mountain lion season, and we still hear from people who think we're not going far enough with harvesting enough mountain lions out there," Williams said. "We feel we've struck a pretty good balance in North Dakota as far as what we've done with mountain lion seasons and the ability to adjust the harvest limit."

Fear and fascination

The fascination with mountain lions takes many forms, experts say. Fear could be part of the attraction; so could a desire to see a wild animal that inhabited parts the region before settlement and appears to be making a comeback, independent Minnesota biologist Steve Loch told the Herald in 2011.

Minnesota doesn't have a breeding population of mountain lions, and so the animals aren't studied in the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

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"Many people who have not lived in mountain lion country fear lions," Loch said. "Indeed, some who do live in lion country fear lions. I guess some people hold considerable interest in what they fear."

In his book, "The Mammals of North Dakota," UND Professor Emeritus of Biology Robert Seabloom writes that mountain lions historically occurred across the Great Plains but never were common.

There were no early records of mountain lions in eastern North Dakota, Seabloom writes, and cats that historically inhabited North Dakota west of the Missouri River had disappeared by the early 20th century.

That began to change in the 1950s, according to Seabloom. Determining the size of the population is difficult, but Game and Fish deemed it high enough to open the hunting season in 2005, Williams said. The thought is that the cats moved into the rugged country of western North Dakota from neighboring western states.

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