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Mountain lion survey extends 3 more years

For the past two-plus years, the North Dakota Game and Fish Department and South Dakota State University have partnered to conduct a mountain lion survey in western North Dakota.

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The collaring of mountain lions might be over, but the survey is far from complete.

The researchers are collecting information at SDSU in Brookings, S.D., and Game and Fish furbearer biologist Stephanie Tucker said the survey has been extended for another three years.

“The student is no longer doing field work,” Tucker said. “He’s just doing the data analysis now.

“Starting in August, a new student will start and we start capturing and collaring more mountain lions.”

The initial survey collared 14 mountains lions — of the 22 captured — in western North Dakota. Though 14 doesn’t sound like a large number, Tucker is pleased with the amount of mountain lions collared.

“That was definitely more than we were hoping for in North Dakota, because we have such a small population,” Tucker said. “We didn’t have very high expectations. Statistically, we would love more. The more the merrier. That’s definitely a good start.”

The first three-year study, which began in October 2011, gathered information about movement patterns, range size and food habits.

The second phases of the three-year study, starting in August, is going to be continuation of certain areas Game and Fish is already looking at right now. But it will also validate the habitat suitability model and the population model.

Tucker said the biggest lesson learned in the initial survey is how to become more efficient and not make the same mistakes.

“Capturing mountain lions took a little bit longer, but it was a one-man effort out there,” Tucker said. “The number of animals we got collared are great. ... We were pleased with the way the first phases of the project went and it was successful enough that we were able to — with confidence — continue doing more research with mountain lions.”