The Washington Times - October 12, 2008, 04:04PM

The director of the Eastern Puma Research Network, John A. Lutz, takes issue with our late September blog concerning the lack of proof that mountain lions exist in Maryland.

“There are mountain lions in Maryland,” he said emphatically during a phone conversation.

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The blog entry was prompted by an article in The Maryland Resource magazine, written by biologist Glenn Therres. Therres works for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and while he agreed that long ago the little state indeed had populations of cougars, he wrote that it is believed they disappeared in the late 1800s, probably due to the lack of sufficient numbers of deer (the big cat’s favorite food).

Therres also wrote that the reports of mountain lion sightings (most of them originating in western Maryland) usually turned out to be some other animal, not the large wild cat; i.e.: there’s never been any real proof.

Enter the research network which receives about 100 calls a year of mountain lion sightings in Maryland.

“Not all, of course, are of a cougar,” said Lutz, “but we do get a fair share that bears further investigation at the scene of the event. We are on the road 3 to 4 days a week, not only in the Free State [Maryland], but across Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.”

To Lutz, the fly in the ointment is the author of the magazine article, Glenn Therres. “He should remember me from past phone calls,” he said. According to Lutz, Therres never bothered to respond to him or his organization whenever reports of sightings or findings of paw prints were made by his group.

“Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia and Pennsylvania have small populations of cougars, which are believed to be wild and native, not released or escaped pets,” said Lutz. “Multiple sightings of cougars have occurred in each of the above named states surrounding little old Maryland. They have not only been [sightings], but tracks have been confirmed by professional and certified animal trackers and identification specialists for more than 50 years.”

According to Lutz, as recently as August 2007, a cougar was confirmed with a video camera along the Casselman River, six miles south of Grantsville in Garrett County. “We have the video tape showing the cougar,” he said.

Lutz said that another mountain lion was confirmed through tracks in the Savage River State Forest in Garrett County in the summer of 1979. “Neither a wild nor pet cougar’s lifespan exceeds 17 years, the difference between 1979 and 2007 [providing] proof that two different cougars were involved,” he said and also added that another cougar was filmed, standing on a large tree branch near the Cranesville Swamp in western Garrett County. “This event occurred in 1980 and the picture of the cougar was given to us by an employee of the Maryland DNR, after his agency refused to acknowledge it,” he said.

Lutz said anyone who wants to know where cougars have been identified, his Eastern Puma Research Network, www.easternpumaresearch.com, can supply the data. The network can also be reached via e-mail at epuma@hardynet.com or calling 304/749-7778. “We still make house calls,” he said.