Monday, September 21, 2009

Mountain Lion Evidence from an Independent Wildlife Biologist

An Interview with Biologist Rick Van de Poll, Ph.D. by Wayne King

Read these brief reports of sightings and see if you don't become a believer yourself.

What was your first encounter with signs that Mt. Lions might exist in NH?

Between September 1999 and December 2003 I conducted natural resource inventories of approximately 8,000 acres in the Ossipee Mountains for the Lakes Region Conservation Trust. In October of 1999 I came across my first positive sign of a mountain lion in the form of an old scat on the top of Larcom Mountain. I sent the sample off to the Wildlife Conservation Society, who had it DNA tested at the National Institute of Health laboratories in Washington, D.C. This sample was too degraded to provided any results, either positive or negative. During that same month, however, I obtained a plaster cast sample of a track, at the base of the mountain, which appeared to be mountain lion.

A year later in December, in the same locale, I obtained a very fresh sample of a scat which had a distinct, cat-like odor and was the standard size for mountain lion (which I recognized immediately having collected several samples from the western United States). This time I contacted the Michigan Wildlife Habitat Federation, who agreed to test the sample along with a sample I took from the Squam Range in Holderness. Both samples were sent to the Wyoming Fish and Game Commission, and both samples were tested along with several Upper Peninsula Michigan cougar scats. Both samples were identified through nuclear satellite DNA testing to contain "no appreciable difference" in their array signature from mountain lion scat arrays that the WFGC had on file from western states. Because there were no existing arrays from New England bobcats, lynxes or mountain lions to compare them with, they did not have any secondary confirmation information with which to certify their findings. The gentleman in Michigan, however, who received the shipment through overnight delivery, stated that this scat was unequivocally mountain lion, and that he would be willing to stand by his opinion, based on several years of scat analysis he has conducted on the (now confirmed) resident population in Michigan.

Did you contact NH Fish and Game about this?

All of the above data has been related to the NH Fish & Game Department. In fact, I contacted them initially to determine if they had any DNA testing facilities in the state. I have forwarded them my own list of 32 sightings in the Lakes Region that I have gathered from area residents since 1999. I also testified at a hearing about the DNA results and had Wyoming Fish & Game Commission forward their letter of results directly to Mike Marchand at NH Fish & Game. In spite of this report, they still consider the finding insufficient to confirm active presence of mountain lion in New Hampshire.

Is there a good reason for being this skeptical on their part?

As a wildlife biologist with 30 years experience, I am inclined to be skeptical of hearsay evidence on wildlife species that are rare. I can respect the opinions of the NH Fish & Game biologists, whose public relations tasks would become more onerous should they admit that we have a federally endangered predator present in this state. However, when the preponderance of evidence points to the active presence of (likely) a few individual mountain lions in this state, it would behoove the state to begin the necessary task of gathering information that informs its population of citizens about mountain lions rather than contributing to the myth that they do not exist.

Dr. Rick Van de Poll is a principle in Ecosystem Management Consultants of Center Sandwich, NH.

I Believe T-Shirt from Moosewood Communications

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