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Debunking the Pennsylvania Game Commission


In October 2007 the spokesman for the Pennsylvania Game Commission (PGC), Jerry Feaser, was quoted by various newspapers regarding the Jacobs photos. He said the strange looking animal in the Jacobs photos is "definitely" a "skinny mangy bear."

People outside of Pennsylvania may not know that a large percentage of people inside Pennsylvania say the PGC is not trustworthy, because the PGC has stated for years, emphatically, that there are no mountain lions in Pennsylvania, even though hundreds of people in Pennsylvania, including many government employees, have seen mountain lions.

The PGC's historical approach to mountain lion sightings is relevant to understanding their approach to the Jacobs photos.

Until recently, whenever the sighting of a mountain lion was reported in PA, the intial response from the PGC was to say the sighting was a misidentification. Whenever a witness strongly contested that reaction, the fall back response by the PGC was to say the animal might have been an escaped pet mountain lion, at best. The animal could not be a wild mountain lion, because "there are no wild mountain lions in Pennsylvania."

This was the approach of the PGC until a farmer named Roger saw a mountain lion, along with several other people on his remote farm, during a large outdoor party -- a party which included a big roast pig barbeque, near the edge of a forest.

The mountain lion came and went. No one was attacked or threatenned, but in the process of reporting the sighting Roger inquired if other sightings had been reported in the area. He was told by the PGC that there were no other sightings, and that he himself did not see a mountain lion ... because "there are no mountain lions in Pennsylvania". That would have been the end of the story, if Roger had not been ... Pennsylvania State Senator Roger Madigan.

Roger did not like being told that he did not see a mountain lion on his farm. After gathering more information on local sightings he called a meeting in his office with the PGC. He invited another wildlife agency to the meeting -- the only agency that could assert jurisdiction over the heads of the PGC regarding the mountain lion issue. That agency was the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The USFWS can assert jurisdiction regarding moutain lions under the Endangered Species Act.

Senator Roger Madigan is surely an intelligent man, intelligent enough to know how he would have felt for the rest of his life if a child, possibly his own grandchild, had been killed or mauled by a mountain lion at his party on his farm. He would have blamed himself for being unaware of the risk he created with an irresistable mix of stimuli and opportunity. He would have also blamed the PGC for leading him, and everyone else in his community, into a false sense of security about mountain lions in Pennsylvania.

The push of the meeting in Madigan's office was apparently to force the PGC's official position to something more rational-sounding, like "There might be mountain lions in Pennsylvania."

That change to the official position would not cause public panic ... but it might make the difference between no caution whatsoever, and basic sensible caution, in situations where small children are playing in the woods unattended, perhaps during outdoor summer barbeques where enticing smoke is wafting into the forest. These situations are common in Pennsylvania in the summer. Mere awareness of the potential might prevent a horrible tragedy for a family.

Only those people who attended the meeting in Madigan's office know exactly what was said, but it must have been a proud moment for U.S. federalism, because the USFWS afterward announced that there "needs to be a study" to determine whether mountain lions exist in Pennsylvania, and the study should be conducted directly by the USFWS.

It didn't need to be trumpeted on television news. It was a subtle way to communicate what needed to be communicated ... to any citizen down the road who might have a reason to inquire: Yes, there might be mountain lions in Pennsylvania.

No person has ever been attacked by one in PA, and no mountain lions have been killed or captured in PA, but that doesn't mean you should completely let your guard down in the woods, especially with small children present. Too many families elsewhere on this continent have learned that lesson, especially in Canada.

Merely informing people of the possibility of mountain lions in Pennsylvania would not cause a panic, as it never does out west, but the death of a child by a mountain lion in Pennsylvania would create some measure of panic and terror in Pennsylania, and all surrounding states.

The USFWS now asks Pennsylvanians to send sighting reports of mountain lions directly to the USFWS, rather than to the PGC, in apparent recognition of the PGC's long-standing practice of whitewashing any sighting reports sent their way.

Understanding the Motives

The USFWS receives its funding from everyone's taxes, but the PGC receives the lion's share of its funding from the sale of hunting licenses in Pennsylvania. Revenue from hunting licenses in Pennsylvania might be reduced if hunters were afraid to go into the woods by themselves, due to fear of a mountain lion attack. The same effect might occur if the wives of hunters in PA were too worried to let their husbands go hunting by themselves. A substantial portion of hunters in Pennsylvania hunt alone.

Public worries about some other strange animal in the woods of Pennsylvania might have the same effect, or so the PGC feared.

Immediately after the first story ran about the Jacobs photos (in the Brandford Era newspaper) the PGC chastised the news editor about it. Feaser phoned the editor of the newspaper and told him that he was "spreading panic" in Pennsylvania and doing a "disservice to the public". Feaser urged the editor to write a follow-up story with a retraction stating that the strange animal is merely a mangy bear. Feaser said he was "certain" that the Jacob's creature is nothing more than a skinny mangy bear, and he offered a photo of a skinny mangy bear.

The news staff at the Bradford Era newspaper thought the bear in the PGC's photo (shown above) looked distinctly unlike the Jacobs creature in various ways, so they did not promote the PGC's assertion that it is a case of mistaken identity, as Feaser urged them to do.

The PGC's historical approach to mountain lion sightings was inappropriate enough to justify federal intervention ... so should the media defer to their opinion about the Jacobs photos?

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The PGC still endeavors to create the impression that many people secretly own pet mountain lions and some of those pet mountain lions escape their confines every so often ... resulting in occassional sightings of mountain lions in wild.

The PGC is not the only state wildlife agency that tries to create this same impression. Some state agencies among the midwest and eastern states will point to a single case within their state where there was an arrest, then use that arrest to propagate the notion that captive mountain lions are common and numerous in their state.

The facts are: 1) Any kind of lion eats a lot of meat, and thus costs a lot of money to keep alive, and 2) wild mountain lion cubs quickly become very undesrieable as family pets, and 3) captive mountain lions were more common in the past than now, but they weren't very common back then either, and 3) outside of zoos, captive mountain lions are very, very rare these days. They are certainly more rare than wild mountain lions.

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