Due to a surge in mountain lion sightings since 2002, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources has planned an informational session for Dec. 7 at the Fisher Community Center in Marshalltown.
In 2001 a driver struck a mountain lion near Harlan, IA, the first mountain lion kill in several years. Since then two more confirmed kills have been made in Iowa - one in 2002 and one in 2003 - but the number of reported sightings has skyrocketed. Though Iowa's Department of Natural Resources has long been aware of mountain lion wanderings through our state, they say that the number of reported sightings is very disproportionate to actual mountain lion numbers.
"I think people know there might be a few (mountain lions) that wander in and out of the state," said Rick Trine, DNR wildlife biologist, in an Associated Press interview recently. "And now everything that looks brown and crosses in front of them they think is a mountain lion. Everybody's got mountain lion on the mind."
Trine has personally received 23 reported sightings of mountain lions in Marshall, Grundy, Tama, Poweshiek and Iowa counties since June 1, 2004. Over the past three years the DNR has received over 300 unconfirmed reports, with just 14 confirmed instances of mountain lion activity. The DNR classifies a confirmed sighting as one with either photo/video evidence, tracks or feces verified by a DNR official.
The most recent confirmed sighting was in mid-October in northern Marshall County. In that case, a trail camera caught a mountain lion on film near a farm, the first photo evidence of mountain lions in Iowa.
The DNR has attributed much of the mountain lion fever to hoaxes and accidental releases. Captive mountain lions in Iowa have been known to escape periodically, causing many of the residential area sightings. Also, many mis-identified or misleading photos have been posted on the internet of mountain lions, both dead and alive. Some of the most widely circulated photos have been identified by the DNR as being set in areas in the Western United States, merely labeled as being taken in Iowa.
Regardless of the number of false sightings, the handful of confirmed sightings has been enough to prompt state-wide meetings on mountain lion activity. While part of the meetings are devoted to calming fears of a large scale mountain lion invasion, time will also be spent educating on mountain lion behavior and what to do if one encounters such an animal.
The program will last approximately one-half hour, depending on public interest. The general public is invited to attend to assuage fears or for mere curiosity.