Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Study Favors Restoration of Cougars

A new study by wildlife biologist John Laundre concludes that the Adirondack Park has enough wild habitat and prey to support up to 350 cougars—a finding dismissed as “a fantasy” by another biologist who once investigated the feasibility of restoring cougars to the region.

“It’s a great idea. We looked at it thirty years ago,” said Rainer Brocke, a professor emeritus at the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “We found there wasn’t any chance for them.”

Laundre, however, contends that Brocke’s 1981 study was premised on the faulty assumption that cougars cannot live in proximity to people and roads. “It is likely that this assumption arose because it was only in the more remote areas of the west where cougars were able to survive persecution by humans, which continued up to the 1970s,” Laundre writes in the January issue of Oryx: The International Journal of Conservation (click here to read the abstract).

Since then, he says, most western states have restricted the hunting of cougars, and the cats are now flourishing close to civilization. In the late 1900s, for example, cougars returned to the Black Hills of South Dakota. Although the Black Hills region is smaller than the Adirondack Park and has a greater road density, it supports a population of 130 to 140 cougars, according to Laundre. (A cougar killed by a car in Connecticut in 2011 is believed to have migrated from the Black Hills.)

An instructor at the State University College at Oswego, Laundre also points out that nearly 90 percent of the roads in the Adirondacks are low-traffic or unpaved. “Data indicate that cougars are reluctant to cross paved roads but not dirt roads,” he writes. “Accordingly, I assumed that the presence of dirt roads would not affect cougars directly and so did not exclude them from my calculations of areas suitable for cougars.”

Laundre estimates that roughly six thousand square miles—more than 60 percent of the Park—is suitable habitat for cougars. He says the Park could support a population of 150 to 350 cougars.  In the 1981 study, Brocke had estimated that about three thousand square miles in the Park was suitable habitat, but he concluded that the great number of roads in the region would lead to car-cougar collisions, poaching, and other conflicts with humans.

Laundre and Brocke also disagree over whether the Park has enough deer to sustain a cougar population. Laundre estimates that the cougars would kill fewer than 10 percent of the region’s deer each year. Brocke, however, said deer are relatively scarce in the Park, especially in the deep woods. If cougars are reintroduced, he added, they would migrate outside the Park where there are more deer.

“The first thing that’s going to happen is that the cougars will move out of the Adirondacks, immediately. They’ll scatter in all directions,” Brocke said.

Laundre, who is vice president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, a group that supports restoring cougars in the East, firmly believes the Adirondacks can support the big cats. The bigger question, in his mind, is whether the public would accept them. Many hunters, livestock owners, and others likely would oppose a reintroduction. Laundre contends that the fear of cougars is overblown.

“If we address these issues in light of existing data rather than emotional rhetoric, there is a high probability that cougars could be successfully reintroduced to Adirondack State Park and other suitable areas in the eastern USA. What is now required is the will to bring them back.”

You can read more about mountain lions in the Adirondacks here at the Almanack.

Illustration above: Cougar Known Range and Confirmations (to 2011) according to The Cougar Network. Green = established populations; Blue = confirmation beyond reasonable doubt; Red = probable (very strong evidence); Yellow = claimed populations awaiting verification. Photo below, a mountain lion killed on a Connecticut highway last year that had migrated more than 1,500 miles from South Dakota (Courtesy of the Connecticut Department of Energy and the Environment).

Related Stories

Phil Brown is the former Editor of Adirondack Explorer, the regional bimonthly with a focus on outdoor recreation and environmental issues, the same topics he writes about here at Adirondack Almanack. Phil is also an energetic outdoorsman whose job and personal interests often find him hiking, canoeing, rock climbing, trail running, and backcountry skiing. He is the author of Adirondack Paddling: 60 Great Flatwater Adventures, which he co-published with the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the editor of Bob Marshall in the Adirondacks, an anthology of Marshall’s writings.Visit Lost Pond Press for more information.

45 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    it looks like pretty population dense parts of CA are in the green zone. how many would you need to release to keep them from wandering off right away. the lynx thing d didn’t go too well.

    • Andre says:

      the reality is… just as they are close to LA and San Fran… they could probably exist in small numbers as far south as Ulster and Dutchess counties without much problems… quite possibly into parts of Orange, Rockland, Putnam (which is similar to the line for black bear).

  2. Alex says:

    While I support increasing our biodiversity, I’m not crazy about the idea of looking over my shoulder every 2 seconds when I’m doing solo runs and mountain bike rides (nearly every cougar attack happens in these circumstances). When I lived in the Sierras I always felt pretty nervous heading out alone. I say let them come back naturally. It sounds like they might already be here…

  3. dick benjamin says:

    the lynx left.

    last year the bears ate at peoples garbage cans. there were few berries, and fewer nuts.

    Fishers introduced in the catskills are down in the lowlands which is where their meals are now days.

    there are few deer in the upper catskill mountains because there is nothing to eat for them. sections of the Adirondacks that i’m familar with look the same.

    Cougers are hunted in western states to preserve farm herds. Washington is one.
    Personally I don’t see cougars staying anywhere where their natural food supply is sparse or non existant.

  4. Daedulus says:

    This is a crazy idea. Too many kids, too many camps too many people..Not nearly enough deer, we have a 10k acre lease and there are very few deer..this idea is, as Professor Brock states, “A fantasy”.

    I wouldn’t bring my small children camping up there with big cats running around, it will kill the tourist trade..

    Many many reasons this is a bad idea..

  5. Chris says:

    They’re not getting here on their own

    They’re living along the interface of every metro area in the West, including the Bay Area, Santa Barbara, LA and San Diego

    Unlike the ADK lynx experiment, Texas cougars were successfully test-released and recaptured after two years in southern Georgia/north Florida

    Mattson et al determined that cougar incidents have declined during the past decade. The last death was 2008. There have been just three deaths since 1998. Just 1 in 150 animal caused deaths in the US/Canada is by a cougar.

  6. Pete Klein says:

    Wolves and cougars, yes.
    But I’m more hopeful for the reintroduction of saber toothed tigers.

  7. Wow 350 cougers! any more articles that are this silly I am going to cancel Adirondack Explorer

  8. M.P. Heller says:

    Where do we come up with 90% of the roads here are unpaved? Are we talking interior roads? Private roads? Which roads? That statement is highly misleading.

  9. Miguel says:

    Bring em back. I hunt, hike,fish and camp in the ADKS and would love to see them back. While I agree that it is a little “discomforting” knowing there is a greater hunter in the woods then man , I still believe it would be a benefit to New Yorks animal biodiversity. Also with a growing moose population they would have another prey species

  10. Phil Brown says:

    Actually, the study says 88.8% of the roads are low traffic or unpaved. I will fix the article.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      Better but still misleading. The comparison you make is to studies that show cougars don’t like to cross paved roads. Lumping in low use paved roads with dirt roads in order to arrive at the “nearly 90%” figure just gives you a nice high number that makes it look like the roads won’t play a factor. If the study included low use paved roads in the first place you could use them in your comparison and it would be valid. Otherwise its a quantum leap in statistical faith, and a broken argument.

      • Phil Brown says:

        MP, the figure is not mine. It comes from the study.

        • M.P. Heller says:

          Yeah but you quoted it without any type of disclaimer in your article giving the impression that you agreed and that it was sound opinion. I realize this isn’t the NY Times or Washington Post but I know your usual style Phil. You usually have much better journalistic integrity than what has been shown in this piece. If I didn’t know better I would conclude you were just shilling for cougar reintroduction, its not hard to get that impression, espescially if the reader is generally unfamiliar with The Almanak.

          Hey, they can’t all be Pulitzer’s.

          • Phil Brown says:

            MP, I presented the road info without comment. Not sure what kind of disclaimer you think I should have given. If I were shilling for cougar reintroduction, I wouldn’t have called Rainer Brocke. In his study, Brocke was very concerned about road density. Landre’s claim is that not all roads are equal and that many of them will not affect cougars.

      • Used2BSven says:

        Why is it misleading. In their opinion nearly 90percent of roads do not act as barrier to travel by these large mammals. Why is that so shocking to you?

  11. Larry varley says:

    Wolves, Coyotes and Cougars. Few Deer.. + tens of thousands of people.. No problem… Remember when a Bear snatched a baby off a porch down in the Catskills??… Yeah but it was only one baby.

  12. Matt says:

    Great article. If cougars have proven that they can exist in close proximity to the human-built environment when food and suitable habitat is available, it seems reasonable to hypothesize that the environment of the interior ADK park may not necessarily be the most favorable place for a re-introduced cougar population, but the fringes of the park may be much more accomodating. A big cat stalking prey through the residential shoreline subdivisions of Lake George would make for an interesting scene.

    • M.P. Heller says:

      I live in Diamond Point. I would like to see that scene. If for no other reason than it would be entertaining to watch. We had bears around last fall. They were fun for awhile. Maybe they will be back come spring.

  13. Marco says:

    I don’t think they have to “do” anything. Like any other animal, they will expand to suitable environments provided they can get here. There is nothing to stop them. I don’t believe that roads, dirt or paved, supply a “barrier” to them. That is a fairly dumb statement. The mechanical traffic traffic might(loud noises,) but anyone out hiking or biking will likely trigger a prey response out of most preditors large enough to handle them. If human fatalities go up, then they will need to be hunted again. Farm damage, missing pets, etc could be a problem, but I do not believe they should reintroduce mountain lions. ‘Corse, they would be good at getting the bloody turkey.

  14. Paul says:

    i understand if the big cat comes back on their own. but to reintroduce them for the sole purpose of ???? putting a feather in Mr. Laundre career cap

  15. Paul says:

    Phil, isn’t the title a little misleading? It sounds like the study concluded that the area is suitable habitat. That is not that same as “Favoring Restoration”?? It is an interesting study.

  16. Phil Brown says:

    Paul, in hindsight, the headline is not ideal. However, I would say the study favors restoration in the sense that it says a restoration could work.

  17. Charlie says:

    Humans do far more damage than any cougar can.I’m not sure if i would be cozy walking through the woods knowing there are cougars around,but i’d rather have one cougar come at me than a pack of coyotes,which is a real concern too as coyotes are known to attack humans,per the Canadian singer a few years ago,for one.I dont feel safe in the woods anymore with coyotes around,they give me the creeps.Cougars? I’m not sure.

  18. Paul says:

    Fair enough, you are a teacher (I think) so I will press you a little just for fun. It says the habitat could support a certain size population explain how that means a restoration could work? If I was a cougar and I was released in the Adirondacks I would make a beeline towards better eats (my back yard here in the finger lakes for example) more like that one hit by a car (probably looking for deer) in Connecticut. Actually it was probably looking for a mate. That was why I asked above how many it would take to make the area attractive from a “sex” perspective.

  19. Paul says:

    I have never conspired carrying a handgun for protection in the Adirondacks (not in the least bit worried about coyotes). But if we had a healthy cougar population I might reconsider.

  20. Carmine says:

    life time adirondacker here and all this talk about having to watch our backs whether hiking, biking, and enjoying one of the last great wildernesses because of a few big cats that could return a balance to a wilderness that was once theirs is pathetic. here’s a thought, learn a little to prepare yourself for any trip into the woods and live life with little bit more of an edge. 39 Million people live with over 5,000 mountain lions in California and the retirement state of Florida does the same thing with a fraction of the forest that we have. So I say reintroduce unless someone can give me a real reason why not…Fear….pathetic. I’m 32, married, and have a baby on the way. Will my family and I stop vacationing in the mountains because of a few cats. No. Would we spend more time & money there if there is a chance of seeing one. Absolutely.

  21. Paul says:

    I lived in Colorado for about 8 years and spent lots of times hiking there I never worried about cougars even when I heard about the occasional attack out west. There, we had lots of mule deer. We have elk, mt. sheep, mt. goats, even a good number of moose. Would they be more of a threat to humans in an area with far fewer ungulate prey animals?

  22. Pete Nelson says:

    I don’t have the expertise to know if cougars can make an Adirondack comeback or not, though my own anecdotal experience in cougar country would point to a yes. But I’d love it if it happened. The forest would be more wild, more whole.

    It never ceases to amaze me how ridiculous it is that people will speak in terms of so much fear over a predator like a cougar, which is undeniably healthy for an ecosystem, then spend their week driving around in a car to and from work, going to the mall, having a couple drinks at night, eating fast food at McDonald’s and shoveling snow, therefore throughout that week engaging in one activity after the other that is statistically orders of magnitude more dangerous than the terrible, horrible cougar.

    I assume that those who are so concerned about cougars have already vacated the woods, since the moose has returned to the Adirondacks and the moose is a much more dangerous animal.

    Bring ’em back.

  23. Paul says:

    Pete, There are only three predators here in the US that will actually hunt for humans. Those are sharks, alligators, and mt. lions.

    If you are in an area where food sources are plentiful I think you don’t have much to worry about. But if they are not I don’t think that some level of fear is totally irrational.

    When I lived in Colorado I saw a great video of a mt. lion stalking young children playing on a playground just west of Denver. Creepy. The “one baby” comment above is a good one.

  24. Rick says:

    It seems funny to me that Laundre thinks that cougars are reluctant to cross paved roads but one migrated all the way from South Dakota to Connecticut.

    • Carmine says:

      It seams funny to me that you don’t know the difference between ‘reluctant’ and ‘able’.

  25. MJ Miller says:

    There’s nothing in the article that tells a reader why one wants to reintroduce cougars into the region. I’m interested: What’s the reason(s) for doing so.

  26. Phil Brown says:

    Good point, MJ. Cougar advocates argue that without a top predator, the ecosystem is incomplete. Some say they are needed to keep deei in check.

    • Paul says:

      According to the DEC the winters in the Adirondacks keep the deer in check. The deer numbers are relatively low. We could probably use some cougars down here in the Southern Tier.

  27. William Deuel,Jr says:

    Deer numbers in the High Peaks area are low on average and quite low after an extreme winter. The coyote population is doing well and they take there share when the snow gets a crust and the deer yard up. The high number of black bear also take their toll on the fawns in the spring. In my opinion some of the cats would adapt and some would move out for better hunting grounds. The timing of this from a P.R standpoint would be a little off with all that is going on at this time. Come hunt,fish ,hike and camp in the adirondacks we just released some big cats for you.

  28. A brave new look at the viability of the Adirondack Park to support a population of several hundred cougars | Protect the Adirondacks! says:

    […] proposal was written about in the Adirondack Almanack, Times Union, and the Syracuse Post Standard. A common refrain among other scientists is that any […]

  29. Here’s my 2-cents worth on this article.
    Comments of both wildlife biologists are ridiculous to say the least, since neither wants to address the primary question facing the Adirondacks.
    “WHY does anyone want to introduce an alien sub-species of cougar/mountain lion into the Adirondacks, when there are already WILD, FREE-ROAMING lions wandering this beautiful wilderness park?? Not 1 in the last 40 years has gone by, without the Eastern Puma Research Network receiving new sightings. EPRN received 3 new reports in 2012. In the event local residents, hunters, campers or travelers would like to report additonal sightings, EPRN can be reached at 304-749-7778 or

  30. cha says:

    To John Lutz, you must be mistaken. It is very exciting to see the images  (captured by cameras) of Missouri Mountain lions. Despite my signing of one in NY and other sightings by people at the same time, we are assured that you guys have gates around your state that ensure that no lion migrates further east. I’ve been told that my sightings and those of hundreds of others in states like NY, CT, NJ, Pa, Delaware, and others are mistaken and are really sightings of bobcats, giraffes, Guinea pigs, pet monkeys, and stuffed animals that escaped while houses were vulnerable (such as when the Tooth Fairy or Easter Rabbit leave the door open) . They can be sightings of anything but mountain lions according to our  local officials and the state environmental conservation officials. And about that one that was killed in ct? Well it is the only one ever to have entered NY and while it was in Lake George, according to our local officials, it was really invisible so that sightings reported at the time could not have really been of that mountain lion but of some sort of mirage or maybe a hallucination but certainly not of the mountain lion that was in the area at the time because, as we all know, they can’t get past the gates of that wonderful state of Missouri!

  31. Frank says:

    Why were cougars expatriated from the area. Bounties ? Maybe , but not from hunters hunting them, they came to the hunters, looking for an easy meal (cow) . The adirondacks are an island surrounded by dairy farms . I guess the cows are safe since cougars don’t cross paved roads.