Some dogs are just meant for water.

Our little Welsh Corgi, Gertie (the Permapup), is one of them. She needs no encouragement whatsoever to immerse herself in the wet stuff; whether it’s a river, a lake, or just a rain-swollen creek or an icy cold springhead, she’ll just go right in and start swimming (or wading if it’s too shallow for for the dog paddle).

Last Saturday afternoon, Gertie and I went on an outing with the goal of finding her a swimming hole in an Ozarks stream. I didn’t feel like driving very far from our remote Texas County high country outpost, so I pointed the truck in the direction of the Big Piney River.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

I figured we could try out a Missouri Department of Conservation area only a couple of miles west of Houston on Highway 17 known as “The Narrows.” There’s no roadway sign announcing its existence, but there is a sign in the parking lot, which is just east of Dogs Bluff on the other side of the bridge.

Gertie was excited as soon as we arrived, and went into sniffing mode as she got out of the truck. Local MDC workers have thoughtfully and wonderfully prepared the entrance to the area – a long, wide, 100-percent straight trail blanketed by some nicely groomed grass that goes through a stand of trees. Once you get closer to the river, though, the trail narrows big-time, curves and undulation appear, and the virtual lawn gives way to tall grass that almost obscures the walkway.

As I made my way through, with grass brushing against my jeans and shirt, Gertie plowed along below, unable to see where she was going but undoubtedly navigating by smell. You could hear her making her patented sound we like to call a “pig snort,” which must have to do with some sort of smell-related instinctive behavior. Whatever it is, it’s cute as can be.

When we reached the Big Piney, I quickly realized how I had forgotten how beautiful that particular section of it is, and I was glad it’s protected public real estate. It’s aptly named, too, because for a fairly good distance, the river’s entire collection of H20 squeezes through a narrow strip between the steep side of a hill and rock berms created by the “100-year” floods that now seem to happen every year.

Not surprisingly, Miss Gertie didn’t spend much time admiring the scenery (actually, none), but immediately went water dog on the situation. She walked straight into a spot where the river’s narrow portion ends and empties into a calm, wide area and literally swam in place as she tried to go upstream.

I laughed out loud and said, “That’s awesome girl, but you’re going against some strong current there.”

She bailed out and went downstream a bit where she was in control of where she went. Then the fun was on.

She swam this way and that, tail to the sky and head well above water, while I just looked around at the surrounding beauty and snapped numerous photos with my trusty Nikon Coolpix P100.

I’m not sure Gertie wasn’t showing off at times. Once, when I wanted to get a photograph of her swimming, she went in, but only crossed an area of the river that was shallow enough for her to walk.

“That’s it?” I said.

She looked at me and without missing a step continued walking straight toward a deeper area. She went in until she was swimming and paddled her way to the shore about 20 feet away.

When she exited, she shook about two gallons of the Big Piney out of her fur. Then she looked over at me as if to say, “How’s that?”

“Very nice,” I said with a laugh.

After I could tell Gertie had had enough Big Piney for one day, we made our way back through the grass jungle to the tunnel-like lawn strip. She got the chance to chase a rabbit for about 20 yards along the trail before it did an inertia-defying 90-degree veer into the woods.

By the time we climbed into the old Ford, Gertie had pretty much dried off in the warm, late spring temperatures. She was obviously satisfied and napped on the seat until we got home.

It has often been said that residents of the Ozarks are fortunate to live in a place where natural beauty is so readily accessible. Interestingly (and maybe oddly, surprisingly or sadly) there was nobody readily accessing The Narrows last Saturday but me and the Permapup.

Whatever the reason for that is, I know some folks (both two and four-legged) who will be doing plenty more accessing as this summer rolls on – and beyond.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

Head and tail high and dry, Gertie navigates a three-foot deep section of the Big Piney River at The Narrows.

Head and tail high and dry, Gertie navigates a three-foot deep section of the Big Piney River at The Narrows.

Gertie (the Permapup) surveys the Big Piney River at The Narrows, a piece of Missouri Department of Conservation real estate just west of Houston.

Gertie (the Permapup) surveys the Big Piney River at The Narrows, a piece of Missouri Department of Conservation real estate just west of Houston.

 

So there are now about 300 black bears in Missouri.

That’s according to the latest information released by the Missouri Department of Conservation and its Grand Bear Poobah, Jeff Beringer (whose name couldn’t be better under the circumstances). The numbers come from a project now in its fourth year, aptly called the Missouri Black Bear Project.

Interestingly, Beringer and Co. seem to actually admit that bears not only exist in Missouri, but stay. A report from the project indicates that four separate “populations” have been identified in the state and that the presence of females can determine if a population is transient or stationary.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Ya think?

This would seem to go against the MDC’s well-publicized cougar policy. Remember: There’s no breeding population of cougars in Missouri and all those you, your relatives or your friends claim to have seen or heard are simply passing through from states to the west to states to the east (never the other way, mind you) in search of mates or territory (because, obviously, there are no worthy mates amongst all the passers-through, and there’s no worthy territory in Missouri).

While cougars apparently consider Missouri a barren wasteland to be avoided unless used for passage to the beauty that lies beyond, the MDC apparently has determined the same isn’t true for bears. Apparently, bears somehow find Missouri attractive enough to set up camp and, well, proliferate.

A quick reset: Missouri bears are believed to mostly be descendants of a bear re-stocking project decades ago in Arkansas, when bears from Minnesota were released in the Natural State. So I guess now we’re to accept that many Missouri bears could actually be Missouri bears, and not just wandering wildlife wishing they were somewhere else like their big feline brethren.

To me, there’s reason to wonder why. The fact our state’s   conservation experts aren’t insisting that bears don’t stay and breed in Missouri begs the question: What is it about the Show Me State that would make a bear want to become part of a “breeding population?”

Just what exactly are “The 300” doing here?

Maybe they heard the hot light was on more often at Missouri’s Krispy Kreme Donuts locations than those in Arkansas.

Maybe they’re St. Louis Cardinals fans and their radios don’t pick up the voices of Mike Shannon and John Rooney very well from down in Arkansas.

Maybe they prefer the local craft beers brewed here to the ones produced there.

Or maybe, just maybe, there’s enough wilderness, food and other stuff in portions of Missouri to make up an ideal habitat for a large, omnivorous animal. Yep, maybe when bears are bedding down for the evening in some sheltered hollow deep in an Ozarks wilderness, their bellies full and their cubs happy and content, they look at each other and say, “Those cougars – they just don’t know what they’re missing.”

Either that or the cougars are bedding down in their own perfect spot a ridge away and they’re going, “Ahh, home sweet home.”

Anyway, I guess at this point we’re supposed to go with this mindset in Missouri: Bears, yes, cougars, no. Hmmm.

If you’re interested, the MDC has a really cool bear-tracking website that allows for following specific individuals that have been outfitted with high-tech electronic jewelry. Check it out at http://www.fwrc.msstate.edu/carnivore/mo_bear/.

In conclusion, I’d like to repeat something I’ve said multiple times in the past: I’m a huge fan of the Missouri Department of Conservation and unlike some other Show Me State residents (some of whom make a living in similar fashion to me by writing for news publications), I like all the guys I’ve ever met who wear shirts bearing the agency’s patch and I have a great appreciation for what they do.

I’m just not a fan of that weird cougar policy. But kudos to Beringer’s bunch for not trying to present bears as nothing more than traveling vagabonds who consider Missouri a place to enter only for the purpose of exiting on the other side.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.

 

So there’s been another mountain lion sighting in the Show Me State.

This time one of the big cats was photographed on private land in Pulaski County. But of course, it was only passing through Missouri, on its way from a state to the west to a state to the east, likely in search of a mate or territory.

So says the Missouri Department of Conservation every time there’s a cougar captured on film.

OK, here’s the deal: I’m supportive of pretty much everything the MDC is about, and I think the agency as a whole does an excellent job, whether in forestry or wildlife management, preservation, restoration, or any other aspect of its operation. I believe the vast majority of MDC employees are fine people with good intentions, and I really like the guys on the Texas County team and have a great deal of respect and admiration for what they accomplish.

Doug Davison

Doug Davison

Basically, I’m an MDC fan and I don’t follow where a lot of the negativity about the agency comes from that regularly emanates from a handful of sources.

But this silly policy on mountain lions has simply got to go.

Come on now – every cougar seen within the boundaries of the 67,704-square mile piece of real estate known as Missouri is only a traveler on its way beyond those boundaries? Really?

I guess maybe the brass in MDC’s Big Cat Department is employing some sort of calculated strategy by insisting that the only reason cougars set foot in Missouri is to walk all the way through it, and that not a single one breeds here either.

Somewhat eerily, it’s almost like there’s a fear of causing widespread panic if the public “knew the truth.” But we’re not talking about “full disclosure,” or sharing the news that “we’re not alone.”

It’s wildlife, not visitors from the Vega star system. I mean, if they’re here, they’re here, and history and religion won’t have to be re-written if we accept that as fact. I suppose if the MDC came out and said, “yep, there’s cougars,” a few people would lament that they could “never again feel safe going to the campground any more” and stuff like that. And believe me, I understand that there might be some concern among cattle ranchers, because the last thing you want is too many hungry lions hanging around livestock.

But I’m just not sure denial is the proper m.o. in MO, and I know for a fact I’m far from alone.

As I’m prone to doing, let me break this down.

The MDC policy stated after the Pulaski County sighting and the myriad of other sightings in the recent past is that “evidence indicates these mountain lions are from other states to the west of Missouri that are passing through in search of mates or territory.”

That’s hard to process, because for that to be true there would have to be nothing in Missouri worthy of a mountain lion making the decision to live here. That would mean the gigantic open spaces, forests, hills, rocky bluffs, and sizeable wilderness areas isn’t enough, nor the abundant availability of perfect food sources, the big-cat friendly climate, or anything else about this whole naturally blessed place we humans don’t feel the need to avoid.

If it’s true, then Missouri is apparently a big cat wasteland, void of cougar-worthiness, located between other places to the west and east that are indeed worthy – like Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kentucky and Tennessee – and a place where no self-respecting big cat would stop for more than nap while heading toward the true mountain lion meccas that lie to the east.

If that’s true, I figure there must be numerous Agent K clones (Tommy Lee Jones’ character in Men In Black) placed along a Cougar Trail that spans the Show Me The Way Out State telling all the passing pumas, “move along – nothing to see here.”

Really? They’re ALL just passing through? Seems a bit unlikely (OK, highly unlikely).

If cougars had voices and spoke English, here’s a short conversation that could take place between two of them as they pass by one another on their way through Missouri (they’d probably both be male, because we can’t have two genders or there might be some hanky panky and prohibited breeding).

East-bound cat: “Hi George, why you headed back to Nebraska?”

West-bound cat: “Hi Stan. I left my favorite rabbit’s foot. When you get to Kentucky, make sure you take a right at that big scraggly oak. Some good eats in the little creek valley just to the south of the big old rock.”

East-bound: “Thanks. Good luck getting through this wasteland not worthy of living in.”

West-bound: “Back at ya, chief. Sure miss the ladies.”

So while MDC’s big cat brass might claim there is no confirmed evidence of a breeding population of cougars in Missouri, I know some folks who would beg to differ – that is, as long as seeing cubs with one’s own eyes qualifies as confirmed. And not that long ago I heard a man I know say something very, very interesting. He has lived in multiple different areas of the country that aren’t advertised as cougar-free zones, and he’ll tell you he knows a good mountain lion when he sees one.

“I saw the biggest male I’ve ever seen the other day,” he said. “It was on the outskirts of our property. And I’ll tell you what, the female that was with him was pretty good sized, too.”

Hmmmm……

Anyway, I heard another man well versed in the subject recently suggest that maybe the MDC ought to consider a trapping, tagging and monitoring program for mountain lions. That might make good sense; it would surely clear up any gray areas, and it seemed to work pretty well with the bears.

Anyway, I’ll continue to be supportive of the MDC and the folks who wear its patches and badges. But I’ll also continue to think the agency’s stance on mountain lions is on the verge of ridiculous.

And I’m pretty sure the percentage of Missourians I’ll be joined by will be in the neighborhood of 100-percent.

Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: ddavison@houstonherald.com.