Reports of mountain lions around Delta Junction have led members of a local trail-users group to post a sign on a popular trail advising users about the sightings. But none of the reports were backed up by photos, tracks or other evidence, so for now, local experts with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game remain skeptical that the big cats are roaming around Delta.
The sign near the trailhead of the Bluff Cabin Trail is a toned-down version of the somewhat alarming post that popped-up earlier this month on the Delta Junction Trails Association Facebook page. It reads something like this:
“BEWARE!!! THERE HAVE BEEN SEVERAL REPORTS OF SIGHTINGS OF A POSSIBLE MOUNTAIN LION IN THE BLUFF CABIN TRAIL AREA. STAY VIGILANT AND IF SEEN TRY TO GET A PHOTO AND REPORT TO (Fish and Game).”
“It was in response to three different sources said that they had seen (suspected) cats in the vicinity, and so we felt that we needed to alert the users,” said Trails Association committee chairperson Mindy Eggleston.
She says the sign wasn’t intended to alarm trail users, but rather out of an abundance of caution, and with the encouragement of the local Fish and Game office.
“That was what Fish and Game wanted,” she said. “‘Take a picture. Let Fish and Game know. Any tracks that you see that are suspect, we’d love to have that checked out.’ ”
That’s what Delta Fish and Game wildlife tech Clint Cooper says.
“If there are mountain lions out there, we’d like to see a picture,” Cooper said. “That’s what I would say to people who are on the lookout – just have your cameras ready, because we’re interested as much as anybody else.”
Joel Holbrook wishes he had grabbed his camera late at night two-and-a-half months ago after he and his wife spotted what they swear was a mountain lion near their home, which is located near the Bluff Cabin Trail in a mainly agricultural area north of Delta.
“It was too early in the morning and I wasn’t thinking straight,” he said. “Why I didn’t grab a camera … I had plenty of time to get video plus photos.”
Holbrook says they looked at the animal out their window and at first thought it might be moose. And by the time he’d grabbed his pants and a rifle and ran outside, the animal was moving quickly toward their dog.
“Probably about 10 seconds from that point, from the time I got there, where he bounded across the yard right at the dog,” he said.
Holbrook says the animal bolted, but not before he got a good look at it. And he says he’s sure it was a mountain lion.
“It’s hard to mistake it,” he said. “It’s a light color compared to anything else I see around here. It has a long tail that slips around as it kind of runs? And it’s a lot larger than any lynx I’ve ever seen.”
But the animal didn’t leave any tracks on that night of Sept. 8, before there was any snow. Cooper says he checked it out, as he has the other two recent reports near Delta. But he says those sightings, along with one from a couple of years by a hunting guide out of Tok, all lacked any hard evidence to prove that it really was a mountain lion that was sighted.
“In the Interior, there’s been reports for years of mountain lion sightings,” he said. “But we haven’t had any confirmed, that I’m aware of. No pictures or tracks that are actually confirmed to be positively a mountain lion.”
Cooper says Fish and Game has confirmed the presence of mountain lions in Southeast Alaska, since one was shot and another trapped back in the 1980s and ’90s. And he thinks there may be something to the theory that as the climate warms the lions are ranging farther north in pursuit of the deer that are their preferred prey species. Like a mule deer spotted last year near Delta and another that was struck and killed by a vehicle a couple of years ago near North Pole.
“Young males particularly can travel long distances,” he said. “So, it’s possible for an individual to show up. However, we don’t have the proof.”
And until Fish and Game gets that proof, the story of the Delta mountain lion will officially remain an unsubstantiated, though tantalizing, tale.