Tom Clyde: Mountain lions running amok
It seems like there is a lot to worry about lately. There is the plague, which is still hanging on despite some encouraging trends. With that, there is the vaccine shortage. Just for good measure, we have a goosey stock market, uncertain economy and Texas has shown us the result of the utility grid failure. Then just for good measure, we have airplane parts falling out of the sky over the Denver suburbs. These are strange times. Oh, yeah, and there are mountain lions wandering around Park Meadows. I guess that gives you something to do while waiting at the bus stop, looking for lions.
Out at my house we had some real mountain lion action. It’s apparently lion hunting season. I didn’t really know that we had lion hunting season, but this being Utah, there is a season for anything that moves. I was driving over to ski, and noticed a family unpacking their lion-hunting gear at a Forest Service access road near the house. They had a couple of trucks with plywood shelters for their hound dogs, a trailer full of ATV’s, piles of camouflage clothes and, what really stood out, a pre-teen kid wearing a Spider-Man costume packing a rifle as tall as he was. Whatever. I went skiing.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the dogs immediately picked up a lion’s trail, and chased it across our hay farm. The hunters followed along on the highway (using GPS trackers on the dogs — who knew?). The dogs got the lion more or less treed in some rock cliffs next to one of our barns. My niece, who owns the house next door, went out to see what the ruckus was all about. The hunters explained their dogs had a lion cornered, and they wanted to get permission to access the property to get their dogs.
My niece and her husband joined in the hunting party, and they all walked back to the barn. They climbed up the mountainside and were close to the lion when it decided it had had quite enough. It took a flying leap, ran behind the barn with the pack of hounds in hot pursuit, and then ran up a cottonwood tree on the other side of the barn.
So everybody walked that way, and stood at the bottom of the tree looking at the lion. It was apparently 15 or 20 feet up the tree. Close enough to have poked it with a long stick. They all got their pictures with the lion in the tree. For reasons nobody can explain, nobody thought to get a picture of the kid in the Spider-Man costume with the lion. The pictures my niece snapped with her phone are spectacular. After watching for a while, the hunters gathered up their excited hounds and went back to their trucks. They didn’t shoot the lion, and explained that they seldom actually shoot one. The excitement was all about the chase. One guy said he liked to get close enough to pull the lion’s tail. Chasing the lion was enough. I didn’t know that was a thing. They had plenty of firepower with them, just in case a treed lion objected to having its tail yanked on by a kid in a Spider-Man costume.
In the course of the conversation, they said they had spotted this female with two cubs (the same group that appeared in the video from a neighbor’s driveway last week, we assume). The dogs went after the adult as the cubs went different directions. The “cubs” are essentially adults now, so they will probably reconnect with the mother without a lot of effort. They said the week before, they were out here hunting/chasing, and tracked a large male.
Putting it all together, it’s now clear that within a half mile of my hot tub, there are four adult or nearly adult mountain lions settled down for the winter. More significantly, at least one of them has been separated from her cubs, chased by a bunch of hounds and run up a tree. She has every reason in the world to be in a really ornery mood. Having a bunch of lions lurking in the woods is one thing, but having a bunch of really pissed off lions hanging around is another.
I guess they have been here for months. I haven’t seen a deer all winter. Normally there are herds of them wandering off the farm and down to the river at dusk. The river is essentially dry and completely frozen over, so they might be drinking somewhere else. But there haven’t been deer on the highway. Normally there are road-kill carcasses all over the place. Driving after dark is terrifying. For a while I thought maybe UDOT was being more attentive to cleaning them up, but then I realized how ridiculous that sounds. There aren’t any deer around because there are four mountain lions getting fat and happy on them. An adult lion in cold weather supposedly will take a deer a week. So four lions times 16 or so weeks, and that begins to be a lot of deer not crossing the highway. It all makes sense.
Except the Spider-Man costume.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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This ski season was great once it got going, writes Tom Clyde. Being outdoors on the slopes was “a powerful and necessary thing this year.”