By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

Ever hear the story about a Kansas farmer who spotted and killed a mountain lion that was stalking his cow herd?

Seems he no more than got home, called a few friends over to look at the animal when game wardens from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks came streaming in, alerted to the missing cat by means of a GPS-activated collar it was wearing.

Fact or fiction?

KDWP will tell you that's far from the truth, that they've never secretly imported mountain lions -- part of the overall conspiracy theory -- and tracked them via GPS.

Why then, I have to ask, was the KDWP and its Colorado counterparts, doing just that when a mountain lion traipsed among shelterbelts and abandoned farmsteads in the far western reaches of Kansas recently?

Funny thing is, KDWP didn't want to talk about it, even though at least two people within the agency agreed that details of the wayward cat were no secret.

Well, let's see, if it's not a secret, doesn't that mean it's public?

Apparently not in the sometimes topsy-turvy world of the state's wildlife agency.

Exactly why it was kept secret is uncertain, but it was ultimately decided to wait until last week's Kansas Wildlife and Parks Commission meeting to talk about the affair in detail.

Afterwards, wildlife chief Mike Mitchener agreed that it might not have been the best decision, but added that a Colorado cat's recent travels through Kansas was an eye opener.

He didn't say it, but it seemed they were a bit worried about what the cat might do while in Kansas. He certainly was concerned about how people might react if they knew a cat was in the house, so to speak.

And he's right, it's likely people would have headed out, guns in hand, to find the marauder, even though his dinner fare was rather benign and didn't include a single thing that could be considered domestic other than a cat.

No cattle, no sheep. No livestock of any kind.

What was most promising, however, is that Mitchener was willing to talk about the issue, and perhaps even bridge the gap in the future.

It was a good conversation. He didn't run, and I didn't beat him down.

Instead, we made strides in what I hope will allow for a task we're both responsible for: keeping the public informed.

How, exactly, that will happen remains uncertain. I will remind him of our conversation when the need arises, but I'm sure he won't forget.

Bottom line, KDWP isn't trusted when it comes to the issue of mountain lions.

It's time the agency breaks through the bureaucratic barriers and embraces the openness issue.

When talk around the community coffee pot turns to mountain lions and the wildlife agency's stealth efforts to restock them, it's going to be best if KDWP bites its collective tongue.

After all, they've done -- by and large -- just what they say they don't do.

It's just that the cat happened to be from Colorado, visiting the Sunflower State, so KDWP didn't capture, tag and release him. He stopped by for a stroll and then headed off for other states.

Be that as it may, credibility goes a long ways, and it's now time for KDWP to start working hard to gain a little back.

I think, and I'm hoping, they'll do just that.