A Nevada man has shared his passionate beliefs about “making room for the mountain lion in Iowa” in an essay recently published in “The Wapsipinicon Almanac.”
Shane Griffin, 42, who works as a professional firefighter in Des Moines, wrote “Over the River and Through the Woods — Mountain Lion Mania in Iowa,” that appeared in the most recent copy of the Almanac, which is printed once a year. Published in December out of Anamosa, the Almanac includes articles and stories on a variety of subjects that are of special interest to Iowans. The publication features cultural news, essays that matter, fiction stories and poems, book reviews, pieces on history and pieces that are “From The Land,” which is the section where Griffin’s essay appears.
The mountain lion essay is Griffin’s first to be published. Even though he’s written several pieces about things related to the environment and submitted those writings to a variety of publications, “you’re met more with rejection than acceptance, but I always have something submitted (to some publication),” he said.
Griffin grew up on a farm just north of Nevada, where he has lived off and on. In eighth grade his family moved to Colorado, where Griffin attended high school. Then in 2005, he moved back to Nevada, where he and his wife, Stephanie, who works at Rolling Green, are raising their three children: Lexi, 18; Kate, 14; and Emma, 13.
As a kid, Griffin said something struck him about rural Iowa. “I wondered if a farm field was wilderness. You have those thinkings as a child, and as you get older, you realize this landscape here is so different from what it used to be.”
Through his writing, Griffin said he likes to bring awareness to people’s minds about the fact that “we are users of this land, but maybe not the best stewards (of it). I know the prairies will never come back and what was will never be again, but that’s not saying we can’t find a mid-ground.” It was this very thinking that Griffin had when he started researching a piece about the mountain lion.
“The mountain lion wasn’t planted here … it came here naturally,” he said. So it bothers him that people can shoot the mountain lion at will, because the animal is not protected by Iowa Code. “I think that’s kind of wrong, that we have to deem something as wildlife before we can protect it.” But if that’s what it takes, then that’s what Griffin would like to see.
In his published article, he shares the history of the mountain lion and other facts about the big cat that he researched with the help of people like Vince Evelsizer at the DNR, cougarwilding.org and the Cougar Fund, based in Wyoming. He culminates his article with the idea that to re-establish territory in Iowa, legal action must be taken to protect the mountain lion.
He writes: “We should consider that the mountain lion was native to Iowa and other Midwestern and eastern states, and is simply following a natural dispersal pattern.
“Mountain lions need large tracts of uninterrupted land to establish permanent residency. Ideal habitat for mountain lions could be on either side of the state along the Missouri and Mississippi River valleys. Yellow River State Forestry in northeast Iowa is the largest state park at 8,000 acres, and it could sustain a population. Western Iowa’s Loess Hills would provide enough protected land for the big cats. The Iowa DNR reintroduced bison to this area, and although the herd is closely managed, it is reported to be sustaining. Southern Iowa also contains some areas that could be suitable.”
Griffin both writes and confides that he believes the people of today are more understanding of the world around us and our impact on the fragile ecosystems than our ancestors were. “The return of the mountain lion represents to me an ecological healing process that is occurring naturally.”
Griffin would like to see Iowa do something similar to what has been done in the neighboring state of Nebraska, where in 1995, legislators voted unanimously to list the mountain lion as a game animal and then gave protection to mountain lions, bears and moose. In Nebraska, there can be no hunting of the mountain lion, but farmers and ranchers can legally shoot the animal if it is considered to be threatening livestock, Griffin wrote. He said there is now an estimated 19 mountain lions that live in the Pine Ridge area, and that there are still dispersing males throughout the state, with numbers that are hard to collect. “Clearly, legal protection of the animal was key to its re-establishment,” he wrote.
Griffin said he forwarded his published article to two local legislators, Herman Quirmbach and Dave Deyoe, and found both receptive to a discussion on the topic.
At the end of his piece, Griffin shares that he has a hope … “that one day I can walk on that small creek in the shadow of my aunt and uncle’s house and show my children the distinct paw print of a mountain lion among prints of Iowa’s other wildlife.”
So far, Griffin has had good feedback from his article from the family members and friends who have read it. Last week, Griffin traveled to Dubuque for a release party for this edition of the Almanac, where each author would read four to five minutes of their stories.
For those who’d like to purchase a copy of “The Wapsipinicon Almanac,” Griffin said it can be purchased in Ames at the Octagon Center for the Arts Gift Shop, Wheatsfield Co-op and Little Bookroom.