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North Dakota Bears and Lions

JPG -- Figure of a mountain lion.
Mountain lions were common in western North Dakota prior to 1900. Are they trying to reclaim residence 100 years later?


The most comprehensive work on early North Dakota fauna was done by Vernon Bailey, a biologist for the Bureau of Biological Survey in 1926. Bailey's work was published under the title of "NORTH AMERICAN FAUNA No.49 - A Biological Survey of North Dakota." It is from Bailey's work that we gleaned the following historical information on black bears and mountain lions in North Dakota.

In the early days black bears ranged over practically all of North Dakota, but were most abundant along the Red River Valley, in the Turtle Mountains, Pembina Hills and along wooded streams of the eastern part of the state. There are a few records for them in the Missouri Valley, but apparently they were never common over the open prairie country or in the badlands farther west.

Their greatest abundance seems to have been the Red River Valley where Alexander Henry, fur trader in the early 1800s, recorded them in such numbers as rarely have been known in any part of the country. Henry reported 906 bears as having been taken in this region from 1800 to 1808.

There were records of bear sightings in practically every area of the state, but they were uncommon outside their primary habitats in eastern North Dakota. At the time Bailey did his work there were few areas where bears still lived; none where they still thrived. He speculated a few still lived in the Turtle Mountains and Pembina Hills, but in the Red River Valley they were limited to an occasional wanderer from the northern woodlands of Minnesota.

Of the mountain lion Bailey reported: "Mountain lions seem to be scarce in this open prairie country" and he wrote that he could not find one definite record of them east of the Missouri River Valley. Most verified reports of mountain lions came from those who had killed them in the badlands. The late 19th century and early 20th century generated the most reports of lions in the badlands, most were from hunters or ranchers. In 1889, W.B. Mershon, who hunted the Little Missouri River badlands, reported mountain lions were common and killed many deer, the remains of which were not hard to find.

What follows is more current information from the records of the North Dakota Game and Fish Department since 1958. There are no doubt sightings of mountain lion and black bear that have not been reported to the Game and Fish Department.

* There have been 56 mountain lion reports. Twenty of these sightings were confirmed up to
1990. There are 11 confirmed reports since 1990 and six of these were from the Turtle
Mountains.

* Nine reports of black bears have been recorded since 1973, and five of the nine have been
confirmed.


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