The return of the fauna…

Somebody took a picture a couple of months ago of a black bear in a sunflower field just south of Walhalla. The photograph was grainy, but there was no doubt it was a bear. That’s not the first time a black bear has been spotted here in recent years. Bears have been spotted in Bowbells (twice), Carpio, Hanover, Fargo, Hebron and Pembina. The Pembina sighting was the first in about 100 years and since then, an occasional bruin will pop up somewhere. Where are they coming from? If they were extinct in North Dakota for a century, why are they back?

Likewise with the marten. Previous sightings of this animal were in the early and mid 1800s, and then they disappeared until 1920. The trail of the marten, a cousin of the weasel that is really a Tasmanian Devil in disguise, went cold once again until the early 2000s where they were being spotted, in abundance might I add, in the Turtle Mountains. But other sightings have taken place outside their preferred forest habitat. Where did the marten go for so many years and why is it back? Were they wiped out by fur trappers and dropped to zero here until one in Manitoba got lost and ended up here? It’s anybody’s guess.

Another animal, the moose, has seen some dynamic changes in recent years. It used to be that you had to go to Alaska or watch Bullwinkle on TV to see a moose. Now, they’re showing up all over the state. Ironically, moose were once prevalent only in the Pembina Gorge near Walhalla. A disease thinned their numbers, but simultaneously, moose numbers began growing in the Kenmare and Bowbells areas. Today, there are hundreds of moose hunting licenses granted, and it seems Game & Fish continues to creep that number upward because of the population.

The mountain lion is another, somewhat of a mystery, not because it’s here in the state but because numerous people spotted this animal or its tracks. Yet Game & Fish refused to confirm mountain lions in North Dakota for a long time. Mountain lions have been seen in Watford City, West Fargo, Garrison, Kenmare, New Town, Twin Buttes and the list goes on. Yes, a mountain lion prefers rugged terrain such as the Badlands, but West Fargo? So many of these felines were confirmed that a hunting season had to be established.

Some of these salty old, hunter and trapper types, seem to think mountain lions have always been here because of what their parents and grandparents have told them. Mountain lions were known to be seen in the Missouri River bottom in the Glencoe Church area in the 1920s and early ‘30s. Glencoe Church is on the Burleigh/Emmons County line between Hazelton and Bismarck.

Have you seen any unusual animals in recent years? There have been some real strange sightings over the years, but some of these can be explained, while the return of the furbearers is an interesting phenomenon and should be the study of someone’s thesis paper in college because it’s certainly intriguing.

Early one morning, a guy was jogging in the Sertoma Park area of Bismarck when a kangaroo jumped out from behind some trees. The kangaroo had escaped from the nearby Dakota Zoo and scared the poor jogger to a point that he’s probably never jogged in that area again.

When I was in college in Bismarck in the mid 1980s, I saw an armadillo run across the street on south 12th Street near the Cash Wise Foods location. I never did get an explanation, but I’m sure it was somebody’s pet that got loose and scurried across the street.

Those kinds of sightings are flukes and won’t happen again, certainly not in nature. But some of these others are quite intriguing. Wild boars in the Pembina Gorge, wild horses in the South Unit of the Badlands, beavers setting up shop along the Des Lacs River, blue heron looking for fish and red piliated woodpeckers in areas of the northwest that aren’t their habitat, are or have happened over the past 20 years.

There are probably numerous possible scenarios that would lead us to believe that these animals would migrate to North Dakota, many of which are nothing more than reaching for a solution. What is the real reason(s)? There has to be an explanation, and you can rest assured Game & Fish has the answer.

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