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N.D. embarks on cougar studies

North Dakota Game and Fish Courtesy Photo The North Dakota Game and Fish will be conducting a three-year study on the survival of adult mountain lions. The NDGF is partnering up with South Dakota State University's Dr. Jonathan Jenks and graduate student Dave Wilckens

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Well, there are just mountain lions.

North Dakota Game and Fish is embarking on its first year of mountain lion research conducted in the North Dakota Badlands.

NDGF have planned a three year study on the adult survival of mountain lions. During the same time, the research gathered should give a good indication on movement patterns, range size and food habits.

"What impact does our harvest season having on mountain lions in North Dakota?" said Stephanie Tucker NDGF Furbearer Biologist. "And/or other mortality to mountain lions such as protection of property."

The study should be able to set the amount of tags released each year to hunters.

"That estimate will be used to help the state meet its harvest quote each year," Tucker said. "It will give us a better understanding than taking research that has been done elsewhere."

Being the NDGF can't send out a full time employee, they partnered up with South Dakota State University.

Leading the survey from SDSU is Dr. Jonathan Jenks, who has been researching mountain lions in the Black Hills since 1998. He isn't a stranger working with the NDGF; his first Ph.D. on mountains lions in the Black Hills was with former NDGF furbearer biologist Dorothy Fecske.

"We've radio collar over 300 lions in the Black Hills," Jenks said. "I've talked with Stephanie Tucker for quite a few years about doing a study on mountain lions. I think it just became time that they (NDGF) were going to do it."

One of the toughest parts is going to be to catch the mountain lions. That is where Jenks and his graduate student Dave Wilckens come into play.

"In the Blacks Hills, we used every option possible," Jenks said. "We used snares and hounds. We think that hounds in the North Dakota Badlands will be limited because of the number of trees. A lion will jump up into a tree to escape the hounds, but our plans are to use every technique available to get radio collars on mountain lions."

The hounds might be at a disadvantage, but Tucker plans to use hounds during the winter months.

When Jenks was looking for a graduate student, Wilckens fit the perfectly in every category.

"Working closely with Tucker, she had some recommendations on the student that she was looking for," Jenks said. "It just so happens that Dave Wilckens fit the bill. He has trapping experience, very good recommendations from Wyoming Game and Fish. As far as his grade point average and GRE scores for graduate school. He's top notch."

NDGF is a little unfamiliar with this extensive scope of research, but Tucker is confident about the survey.

"We haven't done this scope of research on mountain lions before," she said. "This is the first year of a three year study. This will be the first time, we'll be attempting to radio collar a large number of mountain lions at one time."

That radio collar will provide the study with real satellite time which collects the location of the mountain lion three times a day.

"That gives us an idea where one mountain lion we've already collared is in an area where another mountain lion that we want to collar," Tucker said.

Though radio collars will be put on mountain lions, hunters shouldn't be discourage if they come across a mountain lion with a collar.

"Even though there will be radio collared mountain lions out there," Tucker said. "A hunter can still legally take that animal. Just because they are marked they are still open for harvest."