Sunday, August 2, 2015

Study: Adirondackers Support Return of Cougars

Julie Larsen Maher_8520_Puma_WTR_QZ_11 20 09_hr[1]A new paper from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) looks at the social aspects and public attitudes with regard to a potential mountain lion re-colonization in the Adirondack Park.

The paper finds that more than three-quarters of residents and visitors would support the idea should the animals return on their own.  Fifteen percent of Adirondackers polled said they had personally seen a mountain lion, despite the fact they were extirpated from New York State by around 1885. Some 80% said mountain lions still live in the Adirondacks, despite the paucity of evidence for an established population.

At the time of European contact with the New World, mountain lions could be found from coast to coast and from Canada to the tip of Argentina. Considered to be a threat to humans, livestock, and game, their range was reduced dramatically by hunting, trapping, and poaching. By the late 1880s, no sustainable population could be found in New York State.

In 2011, a mountain lion (also called cougar, panther, painter or catamount) was struck and killed by a car in Connecticut. Genetic data from hair samples identified this individual as one previously captured in South Dakota’s Black Hills. The animal had traversed the northern United States through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York State – passing through the Adirondack Park near Lake George.

“Cougars can disperse over large distances; if one can make it, others are likely to have made the journey in the past or will do so in the future,” said lead author of the paper, Eliza McGovern who completed the study as part of a graduate degree at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. “In this context, it is important to understand the public mind-set with regard to these dispersing individuals as well as the potential for a future population in the park.”

The study, “Predicting support for re-colonization of mountain lions (Puma concolor) in the Adirondack Park,” appears in early view in the Wildlife Society Bulletin. Authors include Eliza B. McGovern and WCS’s Heidi E. Kretser.

WCS hopes the study will provide a rare opportunity to understand public perceptions prior to a species’ return to a region and how those perceptions change over time.

The scientists conducted a survey of 315 residents and visitors from across the Adirondack Park in the summer of 2013. Two of the questions from this questionnaire were also added to Cornell University’s Survey Research Institute’s Empire State Poll given to 800 respondents across New York State in early 2014. The polls were designed to gauge what respondents knew about mountain lions, their attitudes toward restoration of the animal’s populations in the park, management preferences, and what level of risk they perceive for themselves, their children, their livestock, and pets.

Results showed that 86.7 percent of Adirondack respondents knew that mountain lions lived in the park in the past and although they are officially listed as extinct in New York State, only 18.7 percent of the respondents indicated that mountain lions do not currently exist in the Adirondacks. In fact, 15.2 percent responded that they had personally seen a mountain lion in the Adirondacks.

When asked if mountain lions “lived in the area, would you worry about your children playing outside,” 41.3 percent answered in the affirmative. Additionally, 22.5 percent would keep their pets inside and 34.9 percent would change their recreation habits.

Despite this, more than three quarters of all Adirondack respondents (non-residents 84.1 percent, residents 69.8 percent) supported the hypothetical idea of mountain lions naturally returning to the Adirondack Park.

About half of the respondents felt that wildlife agencies should act to encourage a population in both the Adirondack survey and the Empire State Poll. However, when asked if they would like mountain lions to be intentionally released into the park, only 35.7 percent of residents and 40.2 percent of non-residents were in support of the idea.

WCS Livelihoods Coordinator Heidi Kretser said, “That such a percentage of people in this survey believe mountain lions exist in the park and are supportive of a natural re-colonization suggests that wildlife managers seriously consider a communications and public outreach strategy about mountain lions in the Adirondacks.”

Currently, there are no plans to take action to restore mountain lions to the Adirondacks. But as the authors point out, “mountain lions, among many other historically persecuted carnivores, are naturally recovering their population and range in many parts of the United States.”

A copy of the report can be found here.

Photo of cougar by Julie Larsen Maher provided.


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40 Responses

  1. Paul says:

    “Fifteen percent of Adirondackers polled said they had personally seen a mountain lion, despite the fact they were extirpated from New York State by around 1885.”

    I think that tell the whole story right there! My guess is this would be a huge percentage even if this was in a place that actually had cougars. This is nuts.

    • KB says:

      I don’t think I follow the point you are attempting to make here…

      • ChrisS says:

        He’s saying that 15% of people seeing a cougar is probably unlikely in areas with a significant cougar population.

        In other words, 15% probably saw a bobcat.

  2. AG says:

    While some people are wrong – you don’t seriously believe the one who passed through the ADK’s and was killed by a car in CT a few years ago was the only one do you?

    • Paul says:

      No, I would suspect there are other strays that have passed through. Here they are saying that 15% (yes 15%) of the population has seen a cougar. These are elusive animals, even where you have a health breeding population 15% of the people living around them will not see them.

      Like I have said in other comments I lived and hiked, and skied, and hunted in Colorado for almost a decade. There we had/have a breeding population of cats. Almost nobody ever sees them. You see signs but rarely the cats.

      Why are they so easy to see here where we don’t have them (with the exception of a stray)? And why don’t we see any signs?

      AG, statistically speaking all 15% are wrong.

      • Paul says:

        Even if only half of the 15% are wrong then this discussion is over since we clearly would already have a healthy population of cougars.

        • Bruce says:

          Paul, same here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. The 15 percenters are even seeing so-called black panthers. Unlike leopards and jaguars, black phase Cougars are virtually unheard of.

          Many years ago, near where I used to live in central NC, a “panther” was sighted in town. It actually turned out to be a leopard which had escaped from a local big cat researcher’s establishment. They had to put it down.

  3. Marco says:

    Regardless of natural disbursement and wandering, the DEC is doing all it should do to protect these animals. The DEC should not be reintroducing them to the ADK’s. We are talking about a top predator here. A smart animal that is fully capable of killing a cow, deer and, yes, a human. They are nearly silent hunters and nearly invisible in their niche. Nope. I would rather not be out solo and be attacked from above and behind by a cougar, but at least it would be a quick death. They often attack silently from behind to crunch and break the neck of their prey. I do not want to be their prey. Nope, I have never seen one. Nope, I never want to. Yup, I am a coward when it comes to these animals. There is no romance nor courage to being killed by a cougar. He is just hungry and a predator and is all business when it comes to hunting.

    • AG says:

      Even if you live where they already exist – you are much more likely to die in a car accident. Do you drive?

  4. Pete Klein says:

    I don’t worry about cougars, wolves or bears. The only predator anyone needs to worry about are other humans.

  5. Bruce says:

    Natural re-population of Cougars might be a good thing, as it would with wolves, because the only native apex predator in the Adirondacks is the Black Bear. Coyotes are not native. Recent studies have shown that Black Bears, especially lone males, are more interested in stalking humans for food than their larger cousins or females with cubs. Two events this year in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park bear that out, necessitating putting down two lone males.

    If the animals want to come back on their own, let them decide if it’s a good thing or not. The Moose being a prime example. Coyotes in the East, Armadillos and Fire Ants in the Southeast on the other hand, are expanding their ranges into areas where they were previously unknown, possibly due to climate change. The deliberate Red Wolf re-introduction into Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina is failing according to a new study, because pup production is not keeping up with losses.

    I think my point is, let’s not meddle in these issues but allow nature to take its course. If Cougars or Wolves come back to the East on their own and find it suitable, so be it. If not, leave it alone. It’s not about tourism, the potential for economic benefit, or what the people are in favor of.

    • Davis says:

      To leave re-introduction to a “natural course” given human development outside large suitable areas in tantamount to writing off the possibility of that happening in all but the very long run at best. We (humans) eradicated these creatures in the first place and have altered landscapes in so much of their historic range, that taking that approach is not correct imho. States east of the Mississippi could and should take steps to secure animals from Western states who feel the need to “cull” large predators. This is such a tough sell for one simple reason primarily. Large game hunters, typically deer hunters in the East, want nothing to do with any animal that they view as competition when it comes to deer harvesting. I support all responsible hunting but I also believe that ecosystems that are historically complete as possible are best for the citizenry as a
      whole. This is a view that I don’t believe DEC is apt to support any time soon.

      • Bruce says:

        Davis,

        Hey, the moose came back from outside the Adirondacks. And we know of one mountain lion which made it all the way to Connecticut. virtually unknown until it was killed by a car. Wolves are just across the Canadian border. What exactly is there which prevents natural re-population unless it is the fact the AP is over 60% private homes, businesses, towns, roads, farms, and other private inholdings, with the remainder broken up around these parcels? As was pointed out in the comments on another topic, no place in the AP is more than 3 miles from a road.

        My position is that it is this broken apart nature of the AP which is the biggest impediment to re-introduction of other apex predators (bears don’t seem to have a problem living near humans). If the animals wouldn’t thrive here on their own, what would be the point in re-introducing them except for human gratification. Wolf re-introduction in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park failed, and its land mass is pretty much contiguous, similar to Yellowstone.

        • AG says:

          Bruce – look at Europe. Bears and wolf populations continue to grow. Wolf packs live 40 miles from Madrid and 30 miles from Berlin now. There are more than twice as many wolves in Europe than in the lower 48 states of the US. Yet Europe is smaller in land size and has 150 million more people. Something is really wrong with that equation.

          http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/dec/18/brown-bears-wolves-and-lynx-numbers-rising-in-europe

          http://www.livescience.com/49191-bears-wolves-carnivores-thriving-europe.html

          • Bruce says:

            True, but most of animals were from remnant, existing populations, and chose on their own to co-exist near humans. When we re-introduce species the efforts fail as often and they succeed, but are expensive either way. Bears seem to like what they find around human habitation anyway.

            • AG says:

              Actually bears were reintroduced in certain places in Europe. Likewise the Lynx (theirs are much bigger than ours) were reintroduced in certain places.
              The wolves though basically all expanded from remnant populations. For instance those that are now just outside Berlin were from populations that lived in East Germany and Poland after the Berlin Wall fell. The hunting of them stopped – land was abandoned – and the wolves kept going. Now they are firmly rooted – and instead of culling – Europeans are learning to co-exist. Those are lessons that this nation could use.

  6. Davis says:

    Bruce,

    To begin with in response, moose did come back from outside of the Adirondacks, but not outside of the Northeast. Most experts believe they came from Maine via Vermont. If a cougar or wolf population existed in a large core area in the Northern forest region, there is a enough habitat connectivity to allow for “on their own” movement in all likelihood. Habitat connectivity is an on going goal of wildlife and land managers throughout the Northeast including places like Quebec and New Brunswick. Of course development and big highways impede movement, but the Saint Lawrence is the big obstacle. Cougars survive in populated regions of Florida, California and other states. The Adirondacks and parts of Northern New England offer excellent cougar habitat. What is lacking is human will and a breeding starter population.

    • Bruce says:

      Davis, the Florida Panther does not live near populated areas. They are currently found in an approximately 1.2 million acre contiguous area comprised of the Everglades National Park, Big Cypress Swamp, and the Florida Panther Federal Reserve. If you look at the map, only a couple of roads cut across this area, and visitors are kept away from the main big cat areas.

      In California, the Cougar was not re-introduced, but is a natural species which is found wherever the food base and habitat are suitable. The problem there is humans are expanding their range into what was pretty much big cat country. BTW, cougars find pets a very acceptable and easy to get at food source. As I said in response to AG, re-wilding of apex predators is a hit or miss proposition, but is expensive either way.

      In the article about re-introducing the lynx, it was pointed out that because of a limited diet (mostly snowshoe hares), and the reduction of hares by climate change, the Adirondacks is becoming less suitable for them. We have to be very careful, which is why natural re-introduction is still the best and most reliable way. Habitat and food sources must be ideal by the animal’s standards, and not what humans believe are ideal.

    • AG says:

      Davis – the St. Lawrence isn’t that big a deal. Wolves have done it already. That cougar from SD reportedly went through Canada before coming down to NY and then CT (interestingly like the coyote population decades ago). Highways are more of an issue. In Europe and Asia and Australia they build over and underpasses for all manner of wildlife. They have proved very successful.

      Yes though – that “corridor” is very important throughout New England and Eastern Canada.

  7. Mike says:

    Bruce has this nailed. If they come back on their own, so be it. It’s unlikely 15% have seen them, but surely some have. Recently in Newcomb by reliable sources. Is this one passing through? Is it more than one? Who knows? We’ve been told there are none despite many reported sightings, including in Ct, and finally it took a road kill in CT to get an admission that yes they are there. They are dangerous animals, silent stalkers that are not deterred by human presence, and in fact will consider humans prey, killing just as has been described, undetected, and quickly from behind. So much has been written about encouraging more folks to the Adks, to hike, fish, hunt, etc. A cougar population will only discourage that. Like the wolves, reintroducing them is a bad idea, just another big predator to prey upon an already pressured and declining deer population, and add an unnecessary and unwanted worry to humans. The part wolf coyotes of the Adks are enough. Let’s not aggravate the situation, and leave it to nature to decide.

    • AG says:

      hmmm – there are plenty of cougars in California and Colorado…. yet I never hear that they are hurting for people to “hike, fish, hunt, etc.” because the cougars are eating people every year. C’mon – lets be adults here. Wolves are actually one of the main reasons people go to Yellowstone now.

      • Paul says:

        Mountain lions can’t scare me away from the awesome skiing and climbing in Colorado Rockies or the Sierra Nevada’s. Not sure what would happen around here especially since you know that environmental groups would make a big deal about them being around. I am not afraid, but again like I have said you are not going to see or hear these animals with the exception of a rare glimpse. There won’t be an economic draw for cougars, wolves, yes maybe some. But the viewing here is nothing like it is in Yellowstone where you can use a spotting scope and see way out in the distance. It is all trees around here.

        Yellowstone park is 2.2 million acres of contiguous park with very few roads. There are over 100 wolves in the park with over 400 in the Yellowstone basin. So even there where you have a good core food supply and habitat the majority of the wolves are around the park. I would assume if successful the same phenomena would be seen here so this is a question for all of upstate NY not a question only for folks in the Adirondacks.

        • AG says:

          Right – and my point to Mike is California and Colorado have many many people who enjoy the outdoors knowing there are cougars around – even if they can’t see them.
          Well really NY would more be compared to Ontario and Quebec – if there were wolf populations. Algonquin gets wolf tourism too. Ontario is surviving.. Economically it’s doing better than upstate NY

          • Paul says:

            Ag, like I have said I agree there could be some economic impact from wolves if there were some good opportunities to see them. Where are your stats on “wolf tourism” in Canada. That would be interesting to see. Ontario has a very strong manufacturing base especially around the populated areas of Toronto and those areas where they have things like making American car parts.

            • AG says:

              it’s not “my stats”… officials at Algonquin would gladly tell you that…
              well there are many reasons Ontario is doing better economically than upstate NY.

    • Bruce says:

      Mike,

      This week, a gentleman vacationing in Hendersonville, NC took what he purported to be a 10-second video of Bigfoot near his cottage. As usual, the video is poor quality, and the only thing besides his dog that was clear enough to make out positively is a unique sign which happens to be about15 or 20 miles from where he said he was. He only lived a couple hours away and is familiar with the area.

      I can’t wait for the BFRO (“Finding Bigfoot”) crew to move in so I can watch their shenanigans live and up close. The big guy will look at the video and announce “yup, you saw a Squatch.”

      8 of the 10 seconds was of his dog barking and moving towards something in the opposite direction from the indistinct figure. I wonder how many of the 15% he represents?

  8. Boreal says:

    I feel the chances of natural cougar repopulation in the ADKs are virtually nil. Any western cougars that miraculously make it here would not stay because there would be available mates. Hunger and habitat are only part of the equation. If there are no mates they will move on. The moose that we have now didn’t have to travel 1500-2000 miles to get here, therefore there was a lot higher chance of finding a mate. Basically the range just gradually expanded. This wouldn’t be the case with cougars. It would be more likely with wolves, but still a long shot.

    This isn’t to say I support reintroduction of either species. Both would be problematic with regard to road kills and humans with guns who may not want them here. In the ADKs, we are the problem, not the solution.

  9. Charlie S says:

    AG says: “There are more than twice as many wolves in Europe than in the lower 48 states of the US. Yet Europe is smaller in land size and has 150 million more people. Something is really wrong with that equation. ”

    Maybe the wolves sense our cancerous nature AG. Maybe they have more smarts than we envision. Maybe they’re trying to propagate but we just wont let them. Maybe it’s our destructive,plastic lifestyle that keeps them from proliferating.

    • Paul says:

      Charlie, his point is that the animals are doing well in areas with dense populations of humans. If it has anything to do with plastic they wouldn’t be doing to well in Europe. I lived in France for two years you can’t find water in anything but a plastic bottle! It is terrible.

  10. Charlie S says:

    Davis says: “Cougars survive in populated regions of Florida…”

    Not for much longer Davis! Have you been down there lately? It’s a shame what they’ve done to that state over just the past 30 years.There ought to be a law against the wanton raping and pillaging they allow down there. We know our erected officials just about everywhere are bed partners with developers? In Florida they’re outright whores.
    Add to this the ever-increasing numbers of people arriving daily in that state and you gotta know the cougars in Florida don’t stand a chance.I’m surprised cougars even survive with all of that heat. It’s hot in Florida because of all the cement.

    • Paul says:

      Charlie did you read Bruce’s reply:

      “the Florida Panther does not live near populated areas. They are currently found in an approximately 1.2 million acre contiguous area comprised of the Everglades National Park, Big Cypress Swamp, and the Florida Panther Federal Reserve. If you look at the map, only a couple of roads cut across this area, and visitors are kept away from the main big cat areas.”

      These areas are well protected from any human development that you describe. Also recent efforts are returning more of the Florida everglades to their natural state of flow so Cougars will have even more territory added to their Florida habitat.

      Here is some more information of everglades restoration projects:

      http://www.evergladesrestoration.gov/

  11. Charlie S says:

    Bruce says: “Davis, the Florida Panther does not live near populated areas. They are currently found in an approximately 1.2 million acre contiguous area comprised of the Everglades National Park, Big Cypress Swamp, and the Florida Panther Federal Reserve.”

    Some were spotted in Tampa as recently as 15 to 20 years ago Bruce. The last known sighting that i’m aware of in that area was an under-nourished panther that was hit by a car on I-4 about 15 years ago or less. There was a very large habitable area of palmetto scrub and pines for them north of Tampa,with a green-way to Hillsborough River State Park and the Green Swamp,until the local politicians allowed developers to tear it all down and build tile-roofed houses,stores,car washes,laundromats,McDonalds,Walmart…….What an ugly mess they made of that once pristine area! Panthers cannot speak to defend themselves….is why they’ll eventually be a thing of the past in Floriduh.

    • Bruce says:

      Charlie,

      Any time you have a viable population of wildlife with large ranges (about 100 square miles for male Cougars), they’re bound to turn up occasionally in or near human habitations. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Cougars are generally living and breeding close to these areas. An “undernourished” animal indicates something was wrong which might cause aberrant behavior.

      I think Paul’s point that sighting a Cougar would be very rare, even if they were finding life in the Adirondacks suitable is right. Most of those rare sightings would be either as roadkill or crossing roads. One might conclude that because they were seen on roadways (people), they like living near them.

  12. Charlie S says:

    The problem there is humans are expanding their range….

    Insatiable,destructive humans!

  13. Charlie S says:

    I read what he said Paul and I responded kindly.They used to be near Tampa also. At one time they roamed the whole state.Then the white man came along and all living things have been threatened since.

  14. Steve Hall Steve Hall says:

    The territory of a typical male cougar will encompass the territories of 3 or 4 females, yet there is no record of any female cougars found east of Missouri in recent years. The cougars spotted in the Adirondacks are wandering males, and as others have pointed out above, males won’t establish territories where there is no evidence of females. We will probably have to reintroduce females to have any shot at rewilding the ADKs with cougars.

    Cougars are only “dangerous” in the media, as all attacks get wide coverage. Even in California, which has many cougars and many hikers-fishermen-etc., the chances of being attacked are statistically zero. This fact applies even to grizzly bears in Alaska and western Canada. You are far more likely to be struck by lightening than to be attacked by bears. However, cougars are secretive and opportunistic.

    As with grizzlies, jogging or biking on trails which are closed in by brush and vegetation, affording less opportunity to see what is around you, increases the likelihood (however slight) of surprising a bear, or being noticed by a cougar, particularly if you’re wearing headphones or ear buds. I run when I’m in Alaska or the Canadian Rockies, but only on roads or lake or river sides, where I have a clear and spacious view of my surroundings. Even then, I always carry pepper spray in grizzly country.

    Returning wolves to Yellowstone had the unanticipated effect of adding millions of dollars in tourist revenues to the small towns surrounding Yellowstone, and while, given the terrain and cover, there would be less of an opportunity to actually spot a wolf or cougar in the Adirondacks, the fact remains that the possibility does drive tourist revenue. I’m a good example, spending much of my free time in the National Parks and Provincial Parks of Ontario and Quebec, looking for moose, bears and wolves, while running into a number of folks doing the same thing.

    Actually, Algonquin Park, about 300 miles west of Lake Placid, may be the most promising place in North America to spot moose, and have the opportunity of photographing them, as, unlike wolves which flee, moose tend to stand their ground: http://www.adirondackalmanack.com/2014/12/the-economic-potential-of-rewilding-the-adirondacks.html

  15. Adrian Wydeven says:

    Your information is incorrect on the cougar killed in CT in June 2011. It was not captured previously in SD. Genetic testing only showed it was most closely related to cougars living in SD. It was never captured by people, and was only handled by people after being killed in CT.