It’s a conspiracy, apparently. I don’t know why PA would want to cover up if they did have Mountain Lions in the state. Because Mountain Lions are awesome.
On Wednesday morning, about a year after the cougar episode erupted in Sadsbury Township, Samuel S. Fisher finished a farm chore and rode a draft horse into his yard.
He hopped down nimbly. He chatted about post-cougar life on his Amish produce farm.
It’s been rocky, he said.
The scene hasn’t changed visibly since sightings of the big cats began trickling in.
The corn has again grown tall. Woods still loom thickly beyond the pasture.
Fisher continues to maintain that he shot a marauding mountain lion with a rifle last October and then used his pocketknife to stab another big cat that jumped him from a tree.
The claims caused a clamor in the area and triggered a futile helicopter hunt for the beasts.
A state police lab test of the knife revealed human blood, but none from a cougar, said state Wildlife Conservation Officer Dennis Warfel, who investigated.
The Pennsylvania Game Commission concluded the animals were imaginary and threatened to cite Fisher with making a false report.
But that never happened.
After sitting down last winter with Amish church leaders, Warfel said, commissioners decided to drop the matter.
That saved Fisher up to $300 in fines. But it cost him a month at Rest Haven Inc., a private mental health services facility in Goshen, Ind.
Fisher said he went there to get checked out at the behest of his church community.
“I came home with a clean [slate],” Fisher said. But the interlude led to “a heck of a tough winter” and weeks of lost income for his family of nine.
It did not change his mind about what he experienced, he added.
“They’re saying it’s a hoax,” he said of the Game Commission. “I told them just like it was.”
Fisher, a stocky man in his early 40s, sells such commodities as blueberries, tomatoes, homemade cheese and eggs.
His Country View Produce farm on Windy Top Road occupies an out-of-the-way corner of the county.
But he’s far from alone in asserting that cougars roam some of the emptier spots of the Northeast.
Six Sadsbury Township area residents went on record last year saying they’d seen or heard evidence of the big cats.
Stephen L. Mohr, a former PGC commissioner, said he believes them.
“There’s no question there were cats there,” Mohr said.
Mohr is now chairman of the Conoy Township supervisors and president of Unified Sportsmen of Pennsylvania, which has repeatedly sued the Game Commission over its deer-management policy.
After the attack, Fisher said, Mohr came to his farm and helped him find what they thought were cougar prints in the dust.
Unified Sportsmen raised a small amount of money to defend Fisher, said Charles Bolgiano, the group’s legislative aide.
In addition, Mohr’s daughter notified the Game Commission by letter that she was representing Fisher.
That was in November.
The commission never responded, said Kendra Mohr, a partner in the law firm of Pannebaker & Mohr.
Meanwhile, Fisher said, on the night of Nov. 15, “my neighbor’s horse was attacked by something.”
“That hide was peeled over” as if raked by big claws, Fisher said. His own horses bolted through a fence, which he said had never happened in the 22 years he has lived there.
The neighbor’s black two-year-old colt recovered, Fisher said.
On Nov. 26, state wildlife conservation officers confirmed that a farm manager killed a serval cat that was killing chickens roughly 35 miles away in Willistown Township, Chester County.
The serval, an exotic African feline that resembles a small cheetah, had been domesticated, according to the Game Commission.
By that time, apparently, the alleged mountain lions had vanished from Lancaster County.
Unified Sportsmen received unverifiable reports that they were hunted down secretly and killed, Mohr said.
Nobody in the case is claiming the animals were wild.
“I don’t think I’d be alive if this was a wild mountain lion,” Fisher said. “My feeling is it was a [young] pet cat” that escaped or was set free.
Mohr said he believes someone released the cats “to cause a ruckus.” That person then stood back and watched the uproar unfold on the Fisher farm, according to Mohr.
But experts have long since discounted the idea there were any cougars at all.
Mountain lions are solitary animals, pointed out Kerry Gyekis, a forester and researcher with the Eastern Cougar Foundation, Harman, W.Va., which is dedicated to reestablishing cougars in the East.
“[Fisher] reported three cougars” of different colors, Gyekis recounted in an e-mail. “I doubt if that has ever happened in the history of man. Another was supposedly a black cougar … there is no history of any in the Americas … period.”
Game Commission officers found no scat, prints or other physical evidence of big cats, Warfel said.
“We feel [Fisher] believes he saw something,” Warfel added, and that many other reports also are sincere.
He encouraged people to call in unusual sights or sounds.
But he said loud, unearthly screechings can often be pinned to more prosaic creatures, such as great horned owls or raccoons.
The report of a bobcat, too, in this area could be credible, he said. “I’ve heard a bobcat in the wild and it is one gosh-awful … it sounds like a woman being attacked.”
Fisher snorts at such explanations.
“I’m talking something as long as from me to you,” he said, indicating about a 7-foot span.
“My story hasn’t changed since day one,” the farmer emphasized.
Things have thankfully quieted down. However, Fisher added, “I still dread going into the woods because you never know what’s in there.”