Kenmare ND - Upside Down Under

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Upside Down Under

By Marvin Baker, a new weekly column in The Kenmare News


The running of the critters...

Posted 10/01/19 (Tue)

Several years ago when I was working as ag reporter at the Minot Daily News, I got a call from an individual who lived just west of Garrison. He wanted me to go out to his farm because he wanted me to see something unusual.

When I got there, he showed me photographs of paw prints in the snow that were consistent with paw prints of a mountain lion.

When I got back to the newsroom, I called the North Dakota Game & Fish Department to ask if they knew anything about a mountain lion near Garrison.

I was told point blank, there are no mountain lions in North Dakota, but didn’t provide an explanation of the paw prints.

They were clearly mountain lion paw prints so I wrote my article based on what the property owner had told me earlier and disregarded what Game & Fish told me.

As time went on, sightings became more frequent until Game & Fish was not only forced to admit lions exist in the state, but to establish a hunting season for two halves of North Dakota.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there, not by any means.

When I was in college in the 1980s, I frequented the State Library and Historical Society. In the Historical Society building there was a bear display from the Pembina Gorge and that it had been about 90 years since a bear was sighted in North Dakota.

It turns out black bears are being spotted in numerous locations across the state and it’s not just along the Canadian border as many people would think.

One was discovered in Fargo, of all places. One was killed by a car on I-94 near Hebron and a black bear has been seen near Hanover.

The more likely places for black bear sightings have been just north of Bottineau, at Northgate on the American side, west of Carpio, and the most recent was a report of a mama bear and two cubs hanging around the Pembina Gorge.

So no bear sightings in almost 90 years and suddenly they’re popping up like mushrooms?

Enter the moose, an animal that was once restricted to the Walhalla area but is now practically all over the state.

Just about everybody north of U.S. Highway 2 has either seen a moose or knows somebody who has. But they seem to be migrating too. People have reported moose as far south as Edgeley and Ellendale and around the Hazelton Boat Dock southeast of Bismarck.

Where are all these moose suddenly coming from? Fifty years ago seeing a moose was a rare occurrence. Nowadays they are as common in North Dakota as they are in Saskatchewan.

Let’s not forget the little guy, the marten. This is a small animal that somewhat resembles a weasel, but is a bit bigger than a weasel.

As of 2000, reports indicated that a marten had not been spotted in what is now North Dakota for at least 160 years.

Ironically, it was recently reported that a marten had been seen along the Des Lacs River at Carpio which happens to be one of the rivers Pierre La Verendrye trapped marten in the 1700s.

More recently, martens have been spotted on river banks across the northern tier of the state.

So, where have these mischieveous little animals been the past 160 years? Had they disappeared, did people just not pay attention, or was it something else that may have driven them out? They certainly weren’t extinct, because they wouldn’t be here now if they had been.

There have also been bobcats and wolves, armadillos, elk and kangaroo.

OK, the armadillo and kangaroo are obviously pranks, but the rest are legitimate.

The question is, why are they suddenly appearing in numbers? Where have they been and why are they coming back?

Some people theorize that when trappers took about all they could, the predator animals went looking elsewhere for food, most notably north toward the Assiniboine River and Hudson Bay.

As those areas became more populated and roads and buildings became more common place, the animals began to migrate south, across the border and into North Dakota.

That’s one theory. Another is that these animals have always been here but people didn’t care to report what they may have seen.

Still another theory has to do with the Charles Darwin parable of survival of the fittest. Once plentiful, the populations thinned out and once again they are able to survive the climate and have food and water sources.

Regardless of scientific hypotheses, these animals are here now. We need to respect their space.