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THE TOPIC: MOUNTAIN LIONS

By NICK NARIGON

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Ron DeArmond, founder and CEO of Pella Wildlife Company, shows the audience a caribou hide during his presentation, “Predator, prey and people: mountain lion — Iowa’s big cat,” at the Marengo Public Library, Saturday, Jan. 16.

A wildlife expert attempted to teach a crowd of citizens the myths and facts of mountain lions at the Marengo Public Library Saturday, Jan. 16.

Ron DeArmond, founder and CEO of the Pella Wildlife Company, held two sessions at the Marengo Public Library last Saturday, titled “Predator, prey and people: mountain lion – Iowa’s big cat.”

DeArmond was brought to the Marengo library in light of last month’s mountain lion event.

Raymond Goebel Jr., Cedar Rapids, shot a 125-pound male mountain lion on the Dean Kinzenbaw farm five miles south of Marengo.

The incident flared a statewide debate over the treatment of cougars in Iowa. Some believe the animal should be completely eradicated from the state, while others feel the cougar should be protected.

Both opinions were shared in the community room of the Marengo library last Saturday.

DeArmond said it was his job to find a middle ground to the argument.

He did say he wished the mountain lion had not been killed on the Kinzenbaw farm, so the animal could be studied.

“We need to use common sense. A cougar will lead to more cougars, and we missed out on an opportunity,” DeArmond said. “If we get a chance, next time, instead of just shooting the animal, call someone.”

He added that it is his belief that a resident has the right to shoot a cougar if they feel they are in imminent danger.

“You have the right to dispatch that predator,” DeArmond said. “No animal has the right to harm you or your family.”

He also noted pepper spray is an effective way to fight off a cougar in case of an attack.

In 150 years, 19 people have died from mountain lion attacks in the western United States. More people die from bee stings in one year than cougar attacks in a century, DeArmond said.

Mountain lions will only attack if surprised or threatened, he said.

“Do cougars specifically stalk people? No,” he said. “You have never heard of a cougar coming into a campground ripping a child from its family. The only reports of cougar attacks on humans are those of people jogging or biking in cougar country.”

DeArmond also claimed cougars provide little risk to livestock. In a 1991 study done in Nevada, “cougar country,” he said sheep farmers reported an annual loss of 0.29 percent due to mountain lion attacks.

Meanwhile, DeArmond said Iowa farmers report a 56 percent loss in crop damage due to white-tailed deer.

Farmers can be proactive with their farms if the cougar is indeed making a comeback in Iowa, DeArmond said.

He said farmers can build a taller fence or remove trees abutting their farm in order to create a buffer zone.

DeArmond said he is also working on a grant to plant cameras in Iowa wildlife areas to hopefully capture video footage of cougars. He said he needs help from farmers to implement the study.

DeArmond said he is working with the Iowa Farm Bureau to pass mountain lion legislation that will benefit agricultural interests as well as conservation interests.

He said the state legislature isn’t going to pass legislation to wipe out cougars, and they also aren’t going to pass laws to give cougars total protection. Legislation needs to be passed that will help manage the species, and keep cougars in wild areas, he said.

“We have to base it on science and we need your help,” DeArmond said. “We need landowners to come on board. We know the animals are out there. We need to know how many there actually are. We need to get eyes in their hunting areas and their habitat to see how many are out there.”

In his work as a wildlife biologist, DeArmond said he has worked with animals of all sizes, from mice to elephants. He said the cougar, by far, is the easiest wild animal to work with. He said cougars are raised by their mothers for the first two years of their life, and must be taught how to hunt.

From infancy, DeArmond said cougars are taught to hunt deer, elk, rabbits and even insects. He said cougars are not taught to hunt livestock.

Having cougars re-emerge in the state of Iowa provides a better balance in nature, DeArmond said. Before settlers came to Iowa, there was a perfect balance of nature among predators and prey.

“The settlers shot the deer and got rid of all competing predators,” he said. “We don’t want to duplicate the mistakes of our forefathers.”

He said wolves, bobcat, cougars, turkey and deer were hunted out of Iowa. Since then, the deer population was re-introduced, and today there are 300,000 white-tailed deer in the state.

The bobcat has recovered to the point where the they must be managed by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

“Nature has found a way,” he said. “This is their home and we are allowing them to come home.”

Female cougars average 90 to 110 pounds, DeArmond says. Male mountain lions average around 150 pounds, and can get as big as 200 pounds and eight feet long.

Because the male shot in Iowa County was only 125-pounds, DeArmond said it is his belief the cat wasn’t older than 18 months.

The animal was increasingly protected in recent years in the West so the population increased. Usually young males started to drift east to find their own turf.

“Cougars are still producing and need a place to live,” DeArmond said. “Things are going to change. Things are going to continue to evolve. Nature is working to bring (cougars) back. Wildlife has a right to live in wild areas.”

Mountain lions travel a far distance during their lifetime. DeArmond said one cougar was collared in South Dakota and was found in Oklahoma.

Males travel as far as 300 miles to establish a territory, he said. Females might travel as far as 150 miles, but usually stay close to their place of birth.

The cougar found in Iowa County could have been born in Iowa, or it could have been born in Colorado, DeArmond said. He said his hunch is the cat was born in Nebraska.

Kinzenbaw, who was in attendance at DeArmond’s morning session at the Marengo library, said DeArmond talked about everything but the protection of human life.

“All I care about is the safety of my grandchildren,” Kinzenbaw said. “I don’t need (cougars). I lived 60 years without that animal and I am just fine without it. I’ll shoot every one I can. I didn’t buy this farm to raise mountain lions.”

One member of the crowd asked DeArmond if he believes the DNR re-introduced cougars into Iowa.

“I don’t believe in re-introducing a species when nature can do it on its own,” DeArmond said.

If cougars are repopulated in Iowa, he said they would not have a large impact on the deer population. He said one cougar would kill, on average, one deer a week.

“Would it have a big impact on the deer population? No,” he said. “We will never have enough predators in the state to manage the deer population. There are too many people.”

DeArmond noted the Pella Wildlife Company is a non-profit, private organization and is not affiliated with the DNR. DeArmond is the also current Vice President of the Association of Professional Wildlife Educators and a member of the Board of Directors of the Feline Conservation Federation.

UPDATED January 21, 2010 11:47 AM

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