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Callaway County cougar was probably wild

A mountain lion killed by a motorist south of Fulton Aug. 11 showed no signs of having been kept in captivity. It's the seventh confirmed mountain lion sighting in Missouri since 1994.

The 105-pound male cat still had the black markings of a cub, leading experts to estimate its age at 12 to 18 months. Young male cougars normally leave the area where they were born to establish their own territories.

Tissue samples have been sent to a lab for DNA testing in hopes of determining the cougar's origin. Ticks taken from the animal also have been sent off for identification. If any of these are not indigenous to Missouri, they could provide clues about the cat's origin. The mountain lion's pelt will be mounted for display at a nature center.

The last known native cougar was killed in 1927 in Missouri's Bootheel region. The first recent sighting was in 1994, when a man shot an adult female cougar in Carter County.

Mountain lions were videotaped in Reynolds County in 1996, in Christian County in 1997 and in Lewis County in 2000. In 1999, a rabbit hunter saw a mountain lion in Texas County, and the discovery of fresh cougar kills nearby confirmed the sighting. The sixth sighting came last October, when a motorist killed a cougar in Clay County near Kansas City.

Mountain lions are being seen more frequently in neighboring states, as well. Mountain lions used to be rare in South Dakota, but they have a well-established population there today. Nebraskans are seeing them more often, and there have been verified sightings in Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa and, most recently, Arkansas. The Missouri and Arkansas river valleys, with their forests and thickets, provide convenient travel corridors from the west.

Missouri probably has a few resident mountain lions now. To date, there is no confirmed evidence of cougar reproduction in Missouri, but if the animals are migrating into Missouri, that could happen.

The Conservation Department isn't doing anything to encourage mountain lions returning to Missouri. Their resurgence is partly a result of Missouri's success in restoring deer, which are cougars'primary food.

Mountain lions are protected by law, but it is legal to kill mountain lions or other wildlife that threaten people, livestock or pets. Cougar attacks on people are rare. They are wary of humans and normally stay away from areas frequented by people. It's natural to wonder if you should be afraid of mountain lions, but it's important to keep such worries in perspective. More people are killed by bee stings every year in the United States than have been killed by mountain lions in the past 100 years. Lightning strikes and dog attacks are much more serious concerns.

Missourians who think they see mountain lions are encouraged to contact their local conservation agent.

USDA lifts ban on import of trophies

The U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has lifted a ban on hunters bringing parts of deer, elk, moose and other ruminant animals back to the United States from Canadian hunts.

Federal officials imposed the ban earlier this year after a single cow in Alberta tested positive for bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as "mad cow disease. "To reduce the risk of the disease entering the United States, the USDA banned the importation of any ruminant parts, including hides, heads and antlers. The agency later allowed hunters to bring cleaned antlers, hides and skull plates back to the United States, but the importation of meat was prohibited.

After reviewing scientific evidence, the USDA concluded that importing trophies posed no measurable risk to public health. Hunters who want to bring wild ruminant meat back from Canada will need a veterinary services special permit and a Canadian export certificate. For more information, call (301) 734-3277 or visit online.

Judge says "No!" to litter

Saline County Associate Circuit Judge James T. "Tut" Bellamy doesn't appreciate people turning his county's roads into trash dumps, as a recent case in his court proves. Bellamy ordered 15 people to pay $750 each in restitution to the Department of Natural Resources for dumping household trash, appliances, construction debris and other material along a county road. He also ordered them to help clean up the illegal dump.

Habitat Hints

Native landscape advice for farms, homes & small acreages

Three new publications help property owners save time and money while enhancing Missouri's biological diversity. "Using Natives on Your Farm," "Natives for Your Home" and "Natives for Your Small Acreage" show how to improve agricultural efficiency, add color to your home and enhance wildlife habitat on your land.

Because native plants are naturally adapted to Missouri's climate and soils, planting them saves effort and money in the long run. To order the new landscape guides, call 573/522-4115, ext. 3630, or visit www.grownative.org.

Fight to the finish

A dramatic fight between two whitetail bucks on the grounds of the Conservation Department's central office complex ended in the death of one of the combatants.

The two deer battled in a forested area near a creek bed just yards from the Department's publications warehouse. Several Department employees, including photographer Jim Rathert, witnessed the fight for dominance.

After extensive sparring, the slightly smaller of the two bucks in the battle managed to knock the larger buck off balance. The buck fell into a section of the creek where the water was a few inches deep. The smaller buck kept its antlers on the downed buck's head, holding it under water. Even after its opponent had drowned, the winning animal continued to prod it with its antlers.

Male deer compete with one another during the rut, which generally begins sometime in September. Most competitions end harmlessly, usually with the animal with the larger body and more developed antlers "winning out" by intimidation. Sometimes, however, the fighting can become intense, leading to serious injuries or, as in this battle, death.

CWD sampling will be faster this year

Hunters who volunteer to have their deer tested for chronic wasting disease (CWD) will find the procedure faster this year, and they can keep their deer heads.

The first round of testing, conducted in 30 randomly selected counties during the 2002 November firearms deer season, showed no sign of CWD in Missouri. Testing was voluntary and involved removing deer heads at the check stations. The heads were transported to a central location, where workers removed samples of brain tissue for testing.

Like last year, this year's testing will be strictly voluntary. This time, however, workers will only cut a hole in the neck of deer carcasses and remove lymph nodes for testing.

Though the new procedure is faster and less damaging to trophies, it will leave a hole in the hide that will make trophy mounting difficult. Hunters who volunteer to have their deer tested may have to find another cape to use with their deer's antlers.

Landowners get help improving environment

Three northeast Missouri soil and water districts are getting funds to improve water quality.

Citizen groups in Shelby, Knox and Macon counties developed watershed management plans which they submitted to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources for funding Special Area Land Treatment (SALT) projects. Three seven year projects will provide farmers $2. 1 million to implement production practices that benefit the environment.

Local groups used information from the University of Missouri Extension Service to determine how changes in land management could improve water quality. In Macon County, they developed a watershed management plan to reduce the amount of soil, pesticides, nutrients and bacteria that flow into Long Branch Lake.

Local decision making is a key element in these projects. By having local input and leadership, the SALT projects offer landowners the chance to improve local environmental quality while keeping farms profitable.

Conservation workers earn professional accolades

Two Conservation Department professionals recently received honors from professional groups.

Resource Science Division Administrator Dale Humburg of Columbia recently received the Mississippi Flyway Council's Don Rusch Waterfowl Conservation Award for his contributions to duck and goose conservation over the past 25 years. Those contributions include serving as Eastern Prairie Population Canada Goose Committee Chair, outstanding work on the Adaptive Harvest Management Working Group and numerous presentations to the flyway council. Council officials called Humburg "the consummate state waterfowl biologist. "

Forestry District Supervisor Michael Anderson of Perryville received the Society of American Foresters Presidential Field Forester Award in October. The award recognizes foresters who have displayed uncommon talent and innovative methods in forest management.

Anderson, who has worked for the Conservation Department for 26 years and has been an SAF member for 28 years, has provided forest management help to private landowners, managed forest land on conservation areas, and trained rural fire department volunteers. He is particularly known for his expertise about regenerating eastern oak hickory forests and incorporating wildlife habitat, aesthetics and recreation in forest management.

A year for big and unusual fish

2003 has been a year for big and unusual fish. In April, Scott Brown of Odessa tied the state pole-and-line record for flathead catfish by catching a 77-pound, 8-ounce specimen at Montrose Lake in Henry County.

On July 10, Amber Schlatt, 11, of Paris caught a 15-pound, 13-ounce brown trout at Bennett Spring State Park. Three days later, Jeff Tiefenauer of Desloge caught a 16-pound, 15-ounce brown trout at Bennett Spring. Tiefenauer speculated that hot weather and low flow in the Niangua River prompted the behemoth browns to swim up the spring branch into the state park.

Although these fish fell far short of the 26-pound, 13-ounce state record caught from Bull Shoals Lake in November 1997, they're still a lot bigger than what one normally expects to catch at a trout park.

In addition to those catches, Betsy Wittenberg of Camdenton caught a 18.8-pound walleye last August in Ha Ha Tonka Cove at Lake of the Ozarks. That's a bigger fish than you're likely to catch in some of the world's best walleye lakes. The state-record pole-and-line walleye was a 21-pound, 1-ounce fish caught at Bull Shoals Lake in March 1988.

At Longview Lake in Jackson County, Vernon Anderson caught what he thought was a piranha. It turned out to be a pacu, a vegetarian piranha lookalike. Like piranhas, pacus cannot survive Missouri winters, so any companions the fish had at Longview Lake won't be around next spring.

Eagle Days scheduled

Are you ready for a winter outing to see dozens or even hundreds of bald eagles? Check out an Eagle Days event.

Telescopes and interpretive programs are provided at each site, and some have indoor programs and food vendors. Call the telephone number provided for detailed information about each event.

  • Dec. 6-7, Mound City, (816) 271-3100
  • Jan. 3-4, Lake Ozark, (573) 526-5544
  • Jan. 10-11, Smithville, (816) 532-0174
  • Jan. 17-18, St. Louis, (314) 231-3803
  • Jan. 17-18, Springfield, (417) 888-4237
  • Jan. 24, Schell City, (417) 87605226
  • Jan. 24-25, Clarksville, (660) 785-2420

Photo certificates recognize first deer or turkey

Did a youngster you know bag his or her first turkey during the spring or fall hunting season? Do you have a new deer hunter in the family? If so, remember the First Deer and First Turkey certificates available from the Conservation Department.

All you have to do is send in a snapshot of your proud hunter, age 15 or younger, with his or her deer or turkey. We will incorporate the photo into the certificate suitable for framing. You can download an application from MDC by clicking on key word "first-turkey" or "first-deer. " Or contact First Deer/Turkey Certificate, Missouri Department of Conservation, P. O. Box 180, Jefferson City, MO 65102-0180, phone (573) 522-4115, ext. 3293.

Outdoor skills programs reach out to kids with special needs

Kids and conservation are a natural fit, and the Conservation Department is working to ensure that children with special needs have access to conservation programs, too. One example is an outdoor skills camp held at Lake of the Ozarks State Park last summer.

For two days, children from all over the state with hearing impairments enjoyed handson outdoor activities ranging from fishing, archery and air-gun shooting to pitching a tent and an old-fashioned fish fry. G. Fred Asbell, an internationally renowned archer and editor of Bow Hunter magazine, provided bow and arrow instruction with the help of the United Bowhunters of Missouri and the Compton Traditional Bowhunters.

The camp will be offered again next year. For more information, contact Tisha Holden, (573) 346-2210, ext. 222; Eric Swainston at (573) 392-1987 or Dennis Garrison at (417) 646-8331.

Sometimes special needs are emotional, not physical. Conservation Department personnel also are involved in ensuring outdoor recreational opportunities for the families of law enforcement officers who died in the line of duty through the Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS) program. Last August, Lake of the Ozarks State Park also hosted the COPS Kids Camp for youths age 6 through 14. Canoeing, fishing and identifying animal calls were among the activities.

COPS was founded in 1984 to help families of deceased police officers. The Conservation Department's goal is to ensure that such families get to learn outdoor skills that the missing family member might have taught them. Both children and parents also have the opportunity to talk with professional grief counselors during the camp.

Some counties are deer-hunting sleepers

What county has the best deer hunting in Missouri? The answer can be found in deer harvest numbers, but digging it out requires a little work with a calculator.

The easy way to find a good hunting area is to pick a county where lots of deer were killed last year. By this measure, the top 10 counties in the state are Benton (5, 697), Pike (5, 673), Callaway (5, 541), St. Clair (5, 236), Boone (5, 180), Franklin (4, 540), Macon (4, 411), Osage (4, 258), Henry (4, 151), and Texas (4, 128).

The trouble with this method is that it doesn't take into account the size of counties. For instance, Texas County is about three times as large as Worth County, but when you calculate the number of deer killed per square mile during the 2002 hunting season, Worth County comes out on top with 3. 557 per square mile compared to Texas County's 3. 503.

In this light, the top counties are Pike (8, 255), Hickory (7, 736), Howard (7, 658), Benton (7, 577), Boone (7, 502), St. Clair (7, 464), Cedar (7, 023), Osage (6, 987), Gasconade (6, 685), and Montgomery (6, 545). Statewide, the average county deer kill per square mile was 3. 976.

If antlers are your thing, the Missouri Show-Me Big Bucks Club has information that might be of interest to you. Eleven counties have produced more than 100 deer each that qualified for the club's record book. Those are Saline(183), Callaway (148), Putnam (145), Chariton (142), Cooper (138), Adair (133), Harrison (119), Macon (114), Franklin (107), Gasconade (106) and Boone (103).

Tree planting advice available online

Missourians who lost trees during violent weather last spring and summer can get advice about replacing those trees online at several web sites.

  •  TreeLink and The Arbor Day Foundation have general information about tree care.
  • American Forest has detailed instructions on where and how to plant trees.
  • Hearland Tree Alliance has a detailed video showing how to avoid a common mistake that causes trees to die prematurely.
  • MDC has a list of publications related to tree planting and maintenance. For example, "Missouri Urban Trees" is designed to help readers make good tree selections. This and other publications can be ordered online or from Conservation Department offices statewide.

The tree planting decisions you make now will be with you a long time. These sites help you get the most for your time and money.

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