Published December 23, 2009, 08:39 AM

DNR trailing cougar across 3 counties; tips offered to avoid confrontation

Biologists with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have tracked what could be the same cougar through parts of St. Croix, Pierce and Dunn counties in western Wisconsin.

EAU CLAIRE – Biologists with the state Department of Natural Resources have tracked what could be the same cougar through parts of St. Croix, Pierce and Dunn counties in western Wisconsin.

It is possible this is the cougar that was photographed and tracked Dec. 11 in Stillwater, Minnesota. That cougar was moving east, and it would have been easy for the big cat to cross the frozen St. Croix River. Tracks found in Stillwater and in St. Croix County are similar in size.

This question may be resolved as DNA samples (hair) were collected in Stillwater and in Pierce County and then again today in Dunn County. These are being sent to the Wildlife Genetics Lab in Missoula, Montana, for analysis. Results are not expected for at least two weeks.

This past Wednesday, a farmer photographed cougar tracks near Spring Valley, about 25 miles east of the St. Croix River near the border of St. Croix and Pierce counties. DNR biologist Harvey Halvorsen picked up the trail on Friday and tracked the cougar for more than a mile to the Eau Galle River.

A motion-activated trail camera took a photograph of the cougar Saturday night, south and west of Downsville in Dunn County. DNR biologist Jess Carstens verified the tracks on Monday, indicating the cougar has continued to move south and east at a rate of 5 to 7 miles per day.

It had been expected that the cat would make a kill and Carstens found a cache Monday, a fawn deer that had been partially eaten and then covered with corn stalks from a farmer’s field. Evidence examined today shows the cat likely returned to the cache overnight.

The DNR has no immediate plans to capture the animal. Landowners in the lower Chippewa River valley are being asked to be observant for signs of the cougar.

If an individual finds what appear to be cougar tracks the best course of action is to take the highest quality photographs possible with something in the frame – a ruler is preferred but cash money will work – as a reference for measurement.

Instructions for reporting rare animal signs – and up to date information on cougar sightings in Wisconsin – can be found online at: http://dnr.wi.gov/org/land/er/mammals/cougar/sightings.htm This information includes e-mail addresses for transmitting digital photographs.

This is the second time cougar signs have been found in this part of Western Wisconsin. In May, confirmed cougar tracks were found on a farm in Pepin County.

A cougar first spotted near Milton, Wisconsin, in January 2008 was the first confirmed instance of a wild cougar in Wisconsin since they were extirpated from the state in the early part of the 20th Century.

Biologists suspect that the handful of sightings since then are the result of male cougars dispersing from breeding populations in the Dakotas. Parts of western and southwestern Wisconsin offer ideal habitat for cougars with heavily wooded terrain, high-ridged valleys and large deer populations. There is no evidence of breeding populations in Wisconsin.

Cougars are listed as protected in Wisconsin. It is illegal to kill a cougar except to prevent injury to a human.

Wildlife officials said there is no reason for concern as cougars typically avoid any contact with humans. While the risk of a cougar attacking a human is exceedingly small, it does exist. Officials from Arizona, which has a large population of cougars, offer this advice:

If you encounter a mountain lion:

-- Do not approach the animal. Most mountain lions will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

-- Stay calm and speak loudly and firmly.

-- Do not run from a mountain lion. Running may stimulate a mountain lion’s instinct to chase. Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact.

-- Appear larger. Raise your arms. Open your jacket if you are wearing one. Throw stones, branches, or whatever you can reach without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly. The idea is to convince the lion that you are not easy prey and that you may be a danger to it.

-- Maintain eye contact and slowly back away toward a building, vehicle, or busy area.

-- Protect small children so they won’t panic and run.

-- Fight back if attacked. Many potential victims have fought back successfully with rocks, sticks, caps, jackets, garden tools, their bare hands, and even mountain bikes. Since a mountain lion usually tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the animal.

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