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Sergeant spots a mountain lion

A Park City Police Department sergeant saw a mountain lion in the Aspen Springs neighborhood recently, the Police Department said, a sighting that comes soon after the first significant higher-elevation snowfall of the season.

The sighting was reported at about 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 10 close to Iron Canyon Drive and Iron Canyon Court. The streets are on the edge of a mountainous area directly west of the Aspen Springs neighborhood.

According to the Police Department, Sgt. Marty Howard, a veteran officer, was patrolling the neighborhood in his police-issued sport utility vehicle when he saw the animal. The mountain lion darted off.

The sighting is believed to be the first inside Park City since a series of witness accounts late in 2007, at the start of the winter, when mountain lions were seen in Park Meadows and Prospector. Mountain lions were also seen at the time in the Snyderville Basin.

"They need to be alert. This is not uncommon to see in Park City," said Rick Ryan, a Police Department captain. "There are predators around. Fortunately we have not had any mishaps with predators."

There is abundant mountain lion prey in the Park City area, including deer, elk, moose and rabbits, Ryan said, and the prey animals are often seen in the Aspen Springs area. Enough of the prey animals have been seen there to warrant the posting of a ‘Wildlife Crossing’ sign on nearby S.R. 224.

"They are here. This is where they live," Ryan said.

Mountain lions tend to follow their prey as it migrates between elevations during the year. Although there has been little snow so far this season at the lower elevations of Park City, snow has fallen in the upper reaches of the area. That has forced the animals to retreat toward lower ground.

Although the Police Department says it is not uncommon for someone to report a mountain lion sighting inside the city, they are not nearly as prevalent as accounts of deer, moose and elk. Ryan recalls previous sightings in the Aerie as well as those in Park Meadows and Prospector late last year.

The sightings in 2007 included one case in which a mountain lion was seen peering at a dog through a window at a Lucky John Drive house. A snowplow driver in the Prospector business district reported another one of the sightings. The authorities, meanwhile, said a mountain lion might have been responsible for the death of a housecat early in 2008 in the Old Ranch Road neighborhood, which is situated close to Park Meadows.

At the time, state wildlife officials said they were considering hiring somebody to track the animal and chase it out of the city. The sightings, though, ceased early in the year.

A local official with the state Division of Wildlife Resources said he had not been briefed about the most recent sighting by midday Monday. He said the division did not intend to respond to the Aspen Springs report.

If a mountain lion becomes accustomed to people, state wildlife officials would intervene, said Dave Swenson, a conservation officer with the Jordanelle district of the division. If necessary, he said, the division would try to chase the mountain lion out of the area using hounds. Officers could tranquilize the animal and move it elsewhere as well. He said the animal could be euthanized under a worst-case scenario.

Swenson said mountain lions live in the Park City area all year, and he expects they will migrate toward lower elevations after the next few snowstorms. He said the deer migration down from the mountains has already started.

"The mountain lions are tied to the deer population. The mountain lions will follow their prey," he said.

Swenson said he is not familiar with a mountain lion attack on a person in Utah, but there have been attacks on humans elsewhere, including Colorado and California. He said people who are outside after dark or early in the morning should be cautious, but mountain lions "don’t pose a huge threat to people."

"A chance sighting is not that unusual," he said.


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