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Mountain lion survey starts its second year

The first of the three-year mountain lion survey in the North Dakota Badlands has been completed.

In the first 12 months of the survey, there were 14 mountain lions captured, 12 radio collared, more than 14,000 locations on the radio-collared mountain lions and more than several hundred feeding clusters spotted.

Not too bad in a year's time.

"Unfortunately, we have all this information, but no analysis has been done yet," said Stephanie Tucker, North Dakota Game and Fish Department furbearer biologist. "That's kind of how these surveys work. We get all the information and then we start squeezing out the details."

Heading the research on the survey is Jonathan Jenks of South Dakota State University in Brookings, S.D. Dave Wilckens, a graduate student at SDSU, is conducting the on-site research in the Badlands. The NDGF Department is partnering with the SDSU in efforts to study the adult survival of mountain lions.

"The survey is going well," Wilckens said. "Now, I'm going back out and collaring some more for the project. The bulk of my time is split between figuring out what the cats are eating and then trying to get some more collars out."

In the first year, four mortalities have been confirmed on radio-collared mountain lions. Two were taken legally during the hunting season and two were taken illegally outside of the hunting season. Wilckens said it's tough to see a radio-collared mountain lion taken in anyway.

"It's bound to happen when you have a hunting season," Wilckens said. "It kind of stinks in some ways. You put in all the effort and time to collar them, but still get good data off of it."

There will be one more year of collaring mountain lions before Wilckens travels back to Brookings to analyze the research. The period after all the hunting seasons through the summer is Wilcken's best opportunity to put on more radio collars.

"We're back into the capture stage," Tucker said. "We'll try to capture and radio collar as many mountain lions as we can, before it gets too warm for the summer. Dave will continue to do feeding clusters through the summer and then after the data will keep collecting itself with the GPS technology. They will transition down to the university as data continues to come in."

Wilckens said the first two winters have been fairly mild, but he knows the weather can change in a span of hours.

"It's certainly easier than it would have been the previous three years having those real bad winters," Wilckens said. "I'm just rolling with whatever shows up. We just have to adapt with the conditions."

Tucker said it's been really comforting to know Jenks and the rest of the staff at SDSU know how to conduct this type of survey. Jenks has been researching mountain lions in the Black Hills since 1998.

"Dr. Jenks and his crew have the expertise in mountain lions," "That's one of the main reasons why we coordinated with the university to do this, so they can collect the data they need and they already know how to analysis the data. It's very nice to have them and it works out well that way."