Sunday, June 16, 2019

No Evidence of Native Cougars in the Adirondacks

Mountain lion paw print taken in Lake George on Dec 10 2010 courtesy NYSDECBefore the 19th century, cougars were abundant across the American continent. In fact, the cougar was the most widely distributed land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They were found in forests from tropical to boreal; from Chile to the Canadian Yukon.

A lion living in the Arizona desert may appear different than one living in the coniferous forests of British Columbia or the freshwater marshes of Florida, but genetically, they’re the same animal, Puma concolor. Taxonomists classify cougars from different regions by subspecies, however. Examples are the North American cougar, Eastern cougar, Western mountain lion, and Florida panther. They’re also called pumas and catamounts.

All western states, except Texas, have at least some protections for cougars and western populations appear secure. There are even limited legal harvests allowed in states where local populations are not considered threatened and lions are considered big game. The Florida panther, however, remains one of the world’s most endangered mammals. And on January 22, 2018, the Eastern cougar subspecies was removed from the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and officially declared extinct.

So, I was quite surprised to hear that on June 6, the Saratoga County town of Halfmoon had posted a warning on Facebook, stating that the Town had “received information from residents that there have been sightings of a mountain lion in the vicinity of Coons Crossing; the Northern part of Halfmoon,” adding “please be aware for the safety of your families and pets.”

NY State’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) receives reports of sightings every year. Among them are these.

On Mar. 20, 2016, a trail cam video from Crown Point, showing what several people believed was a cougar, was widely circulated on the Internet. DEC searched the area for physical evidence (e.g. scat, fur, tracks), but found none. Upon further investigation the agency determined that the cat in the video was most likely a housecat, which the angle of the camera caused to appear to be much larger than it actually was. You can decide for yourself. The Adirondack Almanack has archived an article written about the sighting by Phil Brown; Editor of the Adirondack Explorer from 1999-2018. The video footage accompanies the article. It can be seen here.

In the fall of both 2013 and 2014, local police and DEC received reports of a cougar in Washington County. But, after examining tracks left by the animal, DEC refuted the 2013 claim; declaring that the tracks were from a bobcat, a native cat much smaller than a mountain lion. To the best of my knowledge, the 2014 reports have neither been confirmed nor denied.

In October of 2013, a trail cam photo taken near Newcomb, NY of a large animal seeming to be a cougar was posted on the Internet at poststar.com. After scrutinizing the photo, Ed Reed, a DEC senior wildlife biologist who, on October 25, 1993, identified a partially-eaten deer found in Keene Valley as killed by a cougar, emphasizing that, “The lack of claw marks on the back and shoulders could mean that the cat is a declawed animal that escaped or was released from captivity.” said the cat in the picture appeared to be spotted and that he believed it was a bobcat. That photo can be seen here. (Note: A cougar kitten was shot and killed in Saratoga County in 1993. It was determined that it had been an exotic pet of South American origin.)

In August of 2011, DEC confirmed that they’d found solid evidence of a cougar, including hair and a bedding area, just north of the village of Lake George, near Truesdale Hill Road. The sighting took place on Dec. 10, 2010. Federal wildlife officials used DNA to confirm that the young male lion had traveled from the Black Hills of South Dakota and had been seen trekking through Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, adding that the cat was the same one that had been hit and killed by an SUV approximately 70 miles from New York City, on June 11, in the town of Milford, Connecticut. Prior to its death, there had been several reports of a large, wild cat in and around Greenwich, Connecticut, including sightings on the campus of the Brunswick School, an independent college prep day school, in northwest Greenwich. Again, Phil Brown covered that story on Adirondack Almanack here, including a discussion of how rare these kinds of sightings are.

So, are there cougars in NY… or not? Well, according to DEC, Eastern cougars have been absent from the state since the late 1800s and isolated sightings are most-often cases of mistaken identity (e.g. bobcats, fishers, coyotes, domestic housecats, dogs). Confirmed sightings are of lions that were either once exotic pets or that are male Western mountain lions not native to the state. There have been no confirmed reports of female Western mountain lions in the northeast for more than a century.

DEC staff will investigate reports only when physical evidence exists or when a captive animal has escaped. Reports of cougar sightings can also be submitted to Protect the Adirondacks, by visiting their website and clicking on the ‘report a cougar sighting’ link.

Photo of Mountain lion paw print taken in Lake George on Dec 10 2010 courtesy NYSDEC.

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Richard Gast is a retired Extension Program Educator and has been contracted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Franklin County to continue his informative and thought provoking articles.




65 Responses

  1. Jennifer says:

    Really? I remember a man who work for the state that came around to where I lived in crown point, something like 13 to 16 years ago. He asked if we had seen a cougar. He said they released a pair with trackng devices on. They lost them though. They couldn’t track them now. They were last tracked to a mountain on Russell street in crown point, behind where we lived. He said he was some kind of scientist, or maybe biologist. I can’t remember exactly, but you knew he was professional. . We told him we hadn’t seen one. We didn’t know anything about it. We thought the whole thing was odd. . Then he left and was going back to the mountain where they were last tracked. Never heard anything about it again after that. You don’t have to believe what I’m telling you here, I’d understand, but I’m telling the truth. This really truly happened. .

    • Boreas says:

      Jennifer,

      Could this have been part of the failed the Lynx relocation project which started in the High Peaks with animals dispersing all over the place? Crown Point seems to be an odd area to release cougar (with dairy farms not too far away), but your post doesn’t mention where the pair were released. They could have been released in SD for all I know. Not that your account couldn’t be credible, but I doubt it was a NYS project.

  2. M.A. Enriquez says:

    It’s thoroughly possible there are cougars there. I live in the Chicago region. Not only was there that well known cougar that was killed in downtown Chicago in an alley that had migrated from SD, but there has been confirmed evidence and sitings of another one over the past few years right in our suburbs. On top of this, a wolf with dna from upper western Wisconsin passed through the Chicago region, into Indiana, where it died by vehicle.

    It’s not difficult to go on the Cougarwatch.org website and view all the confirmations in states where the species was extirpated from over the past 200 years. The Adirondacks make for excellent cougar habit.

  3. Wayne Bickford says:

    I’m sorry boys they have been seen in the adk mts, long before this article. They also have been seen in east berne, new york, and parishville.

    • M.A. Enriquez says:

      It just dawned on me that the author is speaking about Native to the NY region cougars, versus one that travel from the Black Hills. He is not discounting the fact there are and have been cougars in the Adirondacks.
      I now understand what he is saying. No, the cougars most likely come from the west. DNA tracking is what tells the story.

    • Karen Govel says:

      We had one on Rock Rd. In Knox NY. Feb. 8, 2006 a 1:15 pm. Was at the end of a trail that empties into a field traveled by deer and turkeys. It was an icy windy day, I was surprised to see it out during the day. I reported seeing the Mt. Lion to our animal control officer, and was told there was another sighting, of one sunning itself on a round hay bale in Berne NY.

    • John Warren says:

      Seeing a cougar (assuming the highly unlikely case that you did) is not proof that there is a native population.

      • Mary Anne says:

        John, perhaps you can please explain what you mean by “native population?” I think that the terminology is what is confusing, as folks are stating they see cougars, but you say “there is no native population.” So what exactly does the term mean? Do you mean the dna changes, or the difference between a cougar passing through the state in its way to another place, or what?

        • John Warren says:

          Native means means born here.

          • Mary Anne says:

            Got it. Why would that be important? Can you describe the aspect from the State/federal POV? I have wondered this for a long time. How there can be documented sitings from biologists, law enforcement, etc, yet officials continue stating that said species is extinct in a state?

            Is it because new protocols, laws, etc. would have to be written and put into place? Would more staff need to be hired? I am speaking not only about cougars, but other state extinct/ extirpated species.

            • Boreas says:

              Extinction in an AREA effectively means no more viable breeding population. If there is a breeding population, then the state has to ramp up its protection because now it goes from extinct to endangered. It is usually cheaper for most states to declare an animal extinct rather than endangered.

              • Mary Anne says:

                It’s hard to wrap one’s head around the construct that scientifically documented, visible creatures are “extinct“ and virtually “non existent” until they “breed.” Only then they become “endangered.” To most people, the creatures would be endangered ALL times, whether they breed or not. I wonder who came up with that concept.

                Do you work in wildlife management or some other governmental area? I volunteered at a nature center for years, and also as a volunteer naturalist with prairie/woodland restoration. You seem know a lot about this issue. Though I worked alongside many knowledgeable people with masters and ever PhDs, in the natural sciences, none ever discussed this issue.

                I wonder why this thread was started in the first place. What the ulterior motive was behind the initial questions. Obviously cougars are in NY according to the Eastern Cougar Network. The deciding factors in governmental protections are having evidence of cougar cubs in NY.

                • Boreas says:

                  Mary Anne,

                  My undergraduate degree is BS Biology, but mostly someone who is interested in nature and wildlife. Don’t let the terminology hang you up and don’t take my word for gospel. This is just what I have gleaned from reading about species around the country like Everglades Cougar, Key Deer, Red Wolf (Appalachians), Grey Wolf, our coyotes, etc. etc.. It is similar to classifying the HPW as “Wilderness”. It certainly isn’t wilderness, but it is just a classification that allows for more protection. Administrative mumbo-jumbo, if you will.

                  I don’t know if reclassification in NYS would require cubs, but at least a documented pair with a territory for an extended time.

    • Joe quellman says:

      “long before”
      offer up an era

  4. Kathy says:

    I’m not sure I would report any possible sightings. It would bring out too many people with guns looking for a trophy kill…if they don’t end up shooting each other then domestic animals that roam would be at higher risk.

    • Boreas says:

      Kathy,

      It would probably be OK to report it to the DEC, but not your local newspaper. Unfortunately, the end result would likely be the same regardless. It would just be a matter of where or when the animal is shot or killed on a highway.

    • M.A. Enriquez says:

      My thoughts exactly. There was verified evidence by DNR of a cougar around three miles from my home. I am in those woods all the time. If I ever see one, I am not saying anything. It just causes anti-wildlife folks to hunt it down. As for all those who let their pets run free outdoors…including cats….they are the most irresponsible pet owners out – who complain when “fluffy” gets eaten by a coyote.

      The article though brings up the rational identification of wildlife though, because the protections of non native versus native species is a hot debate amongst wife managers and biologists. Did New York historically have cougars? Would cougars from South Dakota be embraced and protected, or removed?

      • John Warren says:

        Paragraph one: “Before the 19th century, cougars were abundant across the American continent. In fact, the cougar was the most widely distributed land mammal in the Western Hemisphere. They were found in forests from tropical to boreal; from Chile to the Canadian Yukon.”

  5. Janet Dyer says:

    So enjoy articles posted. Keeps me in touch if the Adirondacks. Janet Sue

  6. Suzanne Delaney says:

    I believe it’s possible that there may be a few cougars in the Adirondacks. They are solitary animals, much like the Snow Leopards of the Himalaya, who are also elusive and rarely seen. My friend Gary, a farmer from Columbia County, drives down and back to the Union Square Farmers’ Market on the Thruway. One evening on his return trip a large animal dashed in front of him, near Woodstock. It was a big cat with a very long tail, clearly no bobcat or coyote. Gary is not one to make up stories, and he saw what he saw. Perhaps the animal was an escapee from some zoo — who knows? Like Sasquatch, it remains a mystery.

  7. Lance says:

    So the one I saw last year on rt 22 in Putnam and my Sister in law saw on Glenburnie rd was a illusion

    • Boreas says:

      Lance,

      No one is saying there aren’t valid sightings. DEC is saying there is not a breeding population (native) of wild cougars here. At least that is how I read the title. Verified sightings turn out to be wanderers and/or escapees. Neither would be considered “native” until they bred and reared young here.

    • John Warren says:

      Thinking you saw a cougar is neither proof you did, nor proof that there is a native population.

  8. Paul says:

    There is also no evidence of Bigfoot in the Adirondacks. Its pretty hard to prove a negative. I think we need a new reality TV show on this.

    • John Warren says:

      No one is saying there is no evidence of cougars in the Park. There is no evidence that there is a native population.

      • Mary Anne says:

        John, perhaps you can please explain what you mean by “native population?” I think that the terminology is what is confusing, as folks are stating they see cougars, but you say “there is no native population.” So what exactly does the term mean? Do you mean the dna changes, or the difference between a cougar passing through the state in its way to another place, or what?

  9. CHRISTOPHER KUNES says:

    Are u kidding me.why are we wasting money and DEC time on this. Anyone who thinks there’s cougers in NY is about as dumb as they come

  10. Donald Corp says:

    Mr. Gast,
    Your comments were very informative, however there have been several sightings, both in New York State and adjoining states. I belong to the ‘Eastern Cougar Network’ which post sighting from the Northeast regions.
    I am a veteran of Vietnam and spent almost ten years serving with Army Special Forces and have been, until recently, was a avid hunter of both, small, medium and large (dangerous) animals (even a lion in Africa). I am a professional tracker and a specialist in weapons. I now, due to my health, receive total disability from the ‘Department of Veterans Affairs.’ Some of us that are professional hunters or have been, seek the same goals as protecting wildlife from poachers and the such. I do believe that mountain lions do exist in New York State as the ‘Adirondack Mountain Areas’ are quite desolate in some locations. I would very much like to correspond with you on topics such as this. You can respond to me at my email address.
    Thank you for article and your interest in this area.
    Sincerely,
    Don Corp

  11. Tom Beach says:

    Saw a large cat, probably a couger, cross the road just north of Street Road last fall. Large cat, long tail. It was not a lynx or bobcat. I drove up to it by 50 feet. Had my phone with me, but off. No pictures, sorry doubters. I keep it on now, just in case.

  12. Joe quellman says:

    vid reviewed by my optically corrected 20/20 vision shows a feline incontrovertibly of tabby like quality

  13. When taking brother to friends house on Fletcher’s farm road, near Norman’s Ridge Road we saw two black Panthers , mother and cub. Adult female was as big as a Shepard and cub was bigger than a house cat..headed towards Norman’s Ridge. Was probably dropped off by someone. To bad I didn’t have my camera. Few know about.

  14. Michael j masterson says:

    Well its no surprise to me that the DEC would nix the cats as being in the park.
    We (neighbors and myself) know better. A few years ago when I reported a sighting of a cat less than 100 feet from my front porch trotting along Ensign pond rd. The stement from the DEC was rather purplexing. Sir there a no viable breeding populations left in the Adirondacks. Well, that may be but I know what I saw …Show me another cat 2 to 2 1/2 ft tall with a 3 ft whip tail that lives up here and ill eat my gum.

    • John Warren says:

      DEC did not “nix the cats as being in the park.” Read the story.

      • Kathy says:

        John Warren….reading is a lost art…along with comprehension, grammar and spelling..common sense as also taken a hit.
        My cats practice cougar walking (within their fenced yard) to fool predators…

  15. Gerry Rising says:

    I am surprised that no one has mentioned the 2011 cougar killed in Connecticut that almost certainly passed through NY on its 1500 mile journey across the country. See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mountainlion-idUSTRE76Q5ZE20110727. A book was published about this remarkable journey, tracing sightings that included some in northern New York State. The book is Heart of a Lion: A Lone Cat’s Walk Across America by William Stolzenburg. It is well worth reading.

    • Suji says:

      I remember that article very well, although I wasn’t aware of the book and will look for it. One wonders what caused this beautiful creature to take such a long trek, only to end up killed by a car in Connecticut — so very sad. Perhaps he was searching for a mate? We’ll never know. One of my cousins, an elderly lady well accustomed to the woods, claimed that there was a cougar living up on the Porter ledges and cats and dogs were disappearing. (Hearing that, I called my cats in at dusk.) I like to bushwhack around in the woods between Baxter and Bear Den, and once came upon the eviscerated remains of a young doe. Coyotes, I figured, but interestingly, the head was missing, although I searched, and I wondered whether a coyote was big enough to carry away an entire deer’s head.

      • Boreas says:

        Suji,

        I wouldn’t rule out a fisher, but a bear certainly could and would scavenge a carcass if given the opportunity. Perhaps, someday, a wolverine!

        • Suji says:

          You’re probably right about the bear–I hadn’t thought about that. A fisher, while tough, isn’t big enough to carry off a deer’s head. I frequently see a fisher crossing our road at night. My parents said Charley Beede had a pet fisher years ago, and I like to think that this one is a descendent, since he lives in the neighbourhood and has a regular route. I saw a baby last year while checking out our waterline on Phelps Brook–what a treat! I don’t think there are wolverines in the Adirondacks, are there?

          • Boreas says:

            Not that anyone has mentioned, but who knows? They can wander just like a cougar and be just as secretive. As I said, perhaps someday – especially if we keep developing wildlife corridors.

    • Paul says:

      They did. Third to last paragraph – that is the one killed “70 miles from NYC”. Did you read the article? It seems like half the people commenting didn’t bother to read the story?

  16. Peter Dean says:

    I have visited the Central Adirondacks every year for the last 32 years, and before that for several years in the 1960s. We go to a remote location in Essex County. I have never seen sign of any cougar. I would be surprised if I did, but would not be surprised to learn that isolated specimens exist in the Park. In fact, I think ti si quite possible. The following true story will explain why.
    In Fall 2013 my wife and I visited Eastern Maine with another couple. We were on the shore about 40-50 miles West of the US/Canada border. In mid-afternoon in bright sunshine in the middle of September were walking through an unmowed field with tall grass and a lot of blueberries about 50 yards from the shoreline (not far from several houses). This was just after we had arrived by car and the house where we were going to stay (about 50 yards behind us) had not been occupied for several days.
    Two of us had walked ahead through the field to the shore line, where there was a row of bushes and then a pebble beach. My wife and the other friend (both female 60+ with decent eyesight and stone cold sober) followed more slowly, picking blueberries. A large animal rushed past (left to right) about 20 yards in front of them. They were not standing next to each other, but one of them clearly saw the head and shoulders, the other clearly saw the hindquarters and tail – which was long. They were astonished but had no doubt that what they saw was a cougar. Again, this was in front of them in bright sunshine.
    We reported this by phone to a Maine Forest ranger. After listening to their account the ranger said “That it is very unusual, but yes, you saw a cougar”. Wild? Released? Native? Male or female? We don’t know, but it was a cougar in broad daylight. Probably hunting along the shore line for small animals, such as accoons etc that were present (we could see their tracks on the shore where they had been eating shellfish).
    If that can happen in coastal Maine near houses, it can happen in the Adirondacks.

  17. Eric Christopher says:

    The cougars come every summer, mostly from NJ, NYC, etc…

    They’re characterized by obnoxious accents, poor driving, designer outdoor clothing and a penchant for wine.

    Good hunting boys!

    • Suji says:

      Well, Eric, way to destroy an otherwise interesting discussion. Perhaps you might find something more productive to fill your time–school will be out soon.

  18. Scott Laurange says:

    Why does DEC continue to lis about this, I have seen photos on trail cams in Columbia Count, I have seen Photos of the ML in Schenectady, If you see 1 there are at least 6 you have not this is my opinion and more investigations need to be done I have been an outdoors man my whole life at the age of 52 & know the difference of a bobcat and cougar/mountain lion.

    • Joe quellman says:

      kindly share this “evidence”

    • Mary Anne says:

      There probably are financial as well as political reasons as to why state DNRs are not quick to accept findings. My state too will not admit to cougars, though the Cougar network as amassed many documented instances of cougars. Dead ones, hair and tracks, all documented by the state. Yet, they still say Illinois has no cougars. Maybe the experts here can explain why this is the case. Perhaps because they are not “native” breeding populations, but just migrants? By the way, I am in Illinois now, but am a transplanted native New Yorker myself.

      • Boreas says:

        Mary Anne,

        An analogy – you can observe a lot of cars at a particular spot on a highway, but this doesn’t prove a native (breeding) of humans in that area. It is a travel corridor. Wilderness areas are also travel corridors for wandering animals. There were plenty of moose spotted in NYS before there was an actual breeding population. But it takes two to tango, so there is a big difference between a breeding population and sporadic sightings of wandering, solitary animals, often males or declawed escapees. How often is the same animal documented twice in the same location? How many dens have been found? How many immature (first year) animals have been seen or documented? This will be necessary to confirm a wild, breeding (native) population of any animal.

        The odds of a WILD male and a female running into each other and settling down are quite low, but not impossible. The more wanderers, the higher the odds – but it isn’t likely with big cats any time soon due to their propensity to attract bullets and cars. Personally, I would like to see wolverines here as well. I don’t know if they were ever native to the Adirondacks, but they could be an important predator that may not have as much “fear factor” associated with them. Food for thought.

        • Mary Anne says:

          So why is this important to governmental biological management – at this time? Whether an endangered species is migrating through, wandering around, or breeding? There would be so few as to now cause any trouble…at this time. It seems the documentation and classification is important? Native vs. migrant?

          Sooner or later the wandering migrating species will finally hook up. I just wonder why this all merits this scrutiny. Is it for science, political, or financial benefit to figure it out at this time? For example, too many deer, result in traffic accidents. Reintroduced wolves can impact ranching and farming. Reproduction rebound happens amongst some species despite intensive wildlife management. But the cougar…in NY….why at this time is it important to establish ether its “native” or a wandering migrant?

          • Boreas says:

            There is a difference with regulation and protection responsibility. With an animal declared officially extinct in a state, a state isn’t required to do much to protect any animals seen or wandering through – especially escapees. Once a breeding population is established with a species considered historically native, now they become “endangered” and the Endangered Species Act requires a state to do all they can (more or less) to protect that population. It comes down to money in many instances. At least that is my understanding of the situation.

          • Boreas says:

            This is part of the reason DNA testing on some animals like wolves is that it can be proven a red wolf has the same DNA as a wolf in the same area prior to “extinction”, then a particular state may need to comply with federal regulations regarding endangered species protection, and it may not be in their best interest financially to admit there is a viable breeding population in their state. Whereas if the returning animal is decidedly different genetically, like say the grey wolf allegedly interbreeding with what we call coy-dogs (BIG coyotes) in our area, then the situation is somewhat different. This is why these classifications matter and states choose their wording very carefully when discussing the status of animals – especially predators.

            • Mary Anne says:

              That is exactly what I thought. It boils down to money. 6 verifiable sitings or documentation by certified biologists over say, 5 years, and maybe a few vehicle collision carcasses to boot, and the state still does not have to spend money “protecting” a species. They can deny there are any species in their state. Because to admit it, then they have to start spending all kinds of money.

              Then it gets political too, especially when ranchers and livestock owners want compensations, (wolves as an example in Idaho come to mind.) Areas need protections, signage, educating the staff and public, funding, and grants, and on and on on it goes. It’s not about the wildlife in the end but the money and the politics. I would think that no “native” populations would be wanted….for those reasonings. That thought makes me very sad.

  19. Clifford LaMere says:

    I SAW one in 2014 about a mile south of Sabattis Circle out side of Tupper Lake. I don’t care what anyone has to say. I KNOW what I saw. Did a lot of trapping as a kid so I know what animals are around.

  20. Joe quellman says:

    documentation neutralizes hysteria

  21. dwgsp says:

    I have never seen a big cat anywhere, but if I did the first thing that I would do after the animal left the areas is look for tracks, scat, hair, or other physical evidence. I would gather as much of this physical evidence as possible (such as photos of tracks that include a known size object to help determine the size) and report this to the DEC.

    Trail cam photos are easy to fake, and eye witness accounts are often unreliable. Physical evidence, on the other hand, is tough to deny.

  22. George Celotti says:

    On 09/20/19 8:30PM my husband and I were traveling south on the Lake Shore Rd., Essex, NY when a large carmel color cat approximately 100lbs+ in road with half a tail ran in front of our vehicle. Could this possibly be a cougar?

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