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#43345 - 03/01/09 11:41 PM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: phlan]
yorick Offline
old hand

Registered: 11/15/02
Posts: 1041
Loc: hamlet\'s hand
 Originally Posted By: phlan
you don't hunt cougars, they hunt you.

I know one or two myself ... ;-)


Unlike Madonna or Cher, cougars actually don't hunt us. If they did, there would be hundreds of attacks every week, instead of the two that occur on average every year. Two, usually by juveniles out on their own for the first time. The survivors tend to make it onto Good Morning America, which doesn't help. Deer vehicle collisions, for a little perspective, kill 200, injure 20,000, and create over $1 billion in property damage annually. That's a real public safety issue, outnumbering all other wildlife threats combined.

When was the last time you saw someone injured in a deer collision interviewed by Matt Lauer?

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#43346 - 03/02/09 05:23 PM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: yorick]
pedestrian Offline
Pooh-Bah

Registered: 08/05/02
Posts: 2244
Loc: a heavily fortified bunker!
Um, I totalled my Outback in a deer collision two weeks ago. I would prefer Matt Lauer interview the deer instead, ask it what the heck it was doing crossing the road. It wasn't talking much, though.

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#43355 - 03/03/09 05:16 PM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: pedestrian]
chip Online   content
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 10/06/01
Posts: 2676
Loc: Sittin' Pretty in Fat City
All that deer trouble is exactly why we need more cougar. With all the land available to them, why hasn't there been a concerted effort to introduce a dozen or more of them in Maine/NH? I'm sure there would be some political fall-out, but since when does Fish and Game bow to the uneducated public?

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#43357 - 03/04/09 02:43 PM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: chip]
yorick Offline
old hand

Registered: 11/15/02
Posts: 1041
Loc: hamlet\'s hand
When it comes to reintroducing or recovering alpha predators, fish and game agencies are acutely sensitive to public opinion - at least, that's one of the arguments used to delay restorations. Florida panther reintroductions have been on the books - and they are mandated under the Endangered Species Act - for 18 years. But the USFWS has yet to put cats on the ground except for an experimental release in northern Florida, which was a success biologically, but failed because they neglected to get public support. The cats were recaptured.

And it's a little more complicated for the rest of the East. Only the panther and the eastern cougar are listed as endangered, but those taxonomies were done and based on research from the 1940s. In the late '90s, geneticists found that all the cougars in North America are actually one subspecies. Regional adaptations exist, but a panther is no different genetically than a cougar from the Northern Rockies. The USFWS is finally reviewing the status of the eastern cougar, and early word is that the subspecies will be de-listed because it technically never existed (meanwhile, because they have pumped so much money and publicity into recovering the Florida panther, including introducing Texas cats to augment the gene pool, the USFWS maintains, despite the science, that this remains a distinct subspecies). Word is that reintroductions will be recommended (South Dakota has said that any state who wants them can have their cougars) for eastern national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges, but given the delays for panther reintroductions, who knows when that will happen.

And no eastern state game agency is quite equipped to do it: no experience with big cats (a poorly conceived lynx reintroduction failed in the Daks), and no money. So it's up to the Feds. This, despite more than a decade of research showing that wolves and cougars - big predators in any ecosystem - regulate the system simply by being there. Prey species change their browsing behavior when they have to keep an eye out for predators. In Yellowstone, elk began to avoid browsing stream corridors, open meadows, and forest edges - places of ambush - when wolves were reintroduced. Aspen, willow, and wildflowers started recovering, and with them beaver, fish, frogs, birds, and butterflies. The same ecosystem recovery was documented in Yosemite and Zion overbrowsed by mule deer when cougars began to naturally recolonize the parks. Ecologists and conservation biologists have called this predator/prey dynamic the Ecology of Fear (again, all covered in Where the Wild Things Were).

It has profound implications for eastern forests, which are being critically kept from regenerating by white-tailed deer. Up and down the East Coast, forest understories are being eaten to the ground, where deer-resistant natives and invasives begin to take over and ground-nesting habitat is destroyed. Biodiversity is plummeting. It's been documented in the Gunks, and that's why they have just initiated a DEC-funded management program to reduce the deer population. The problem is, you need to get the census low enough so that deer register no impact (try to imagine that), where the ecosystem can naturally regenerate and sustain itself, although deer populations have long been managed and allowed to over-populate to satisfy hunters. And a decline in the number of hunters has contributed to sky-rocketing deer herds.

And another part of the problem is that hunting pressure only affects browsing behavior for one season each year, and for just half of each day. At night, deer return to browsing with less vigilance, where they can stop and eat wherever and whenever they please. With predators in the system, they become far more cautious 24/7, and stop behaving like cattle. Big predators are the most effective management tool for recovering degraded ecosystems, complementing hunting.

Which is a long way of saying that cougars aren't likely to reduce the deer herd enough to affect the rate of vehicle collisions (I've heard of one report citing the death-rate for collisions is equal to the number of deer taken each year by hunters: deer herds can re-double in two years under the right conditions), but they will arrest the epidemic of understory degradation.

So, bringing cougars back to federal eastern lands, and to big state preserves like the Dacks and the Catskills (about equal in size to what's left of Florida panther habitat), is an ecological imperative. California has 4,000 to 6,000 cougars, and is equivalent in area and human population to ME, NH, VT, NY, PA, and WV. We know they can and do live in close proximity, and with very little incident, to human activity.

Convincing the USFWS, Congress, and the public of the necessity to bring cougars back East, under the same ESA mandates western bald eagles and peregrine falcons have been introduced, is the next big step.
_________________________
Shongum ain\'t Indian,
it\'s Shawank-unk.

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#43358 - 03/04/09 05:43 PM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: yorick]
empicard Offline
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/29/01
Posts: 2956
Loc: LI, NY
Reintroduction of cougars.
Man, if I see a friggin cougar while trudging up the talus slope I'm gonna shit myself.

;\)
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tOOthless

Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

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#43359 - 03/04/09 06:47 PM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: empicard]
Dillbag Offline
old hand

Registered: 05/02/06
Posts: 1130
Loc: "The Town"
Wish they would be reintroduced...

Saw a Cougar paw print in the mud while backpacking in Olympic Nat'l Parks Ho Rainforest...

A luckier hiker saw a cougar two days before lounging on a trail bridge.
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#43360 - 03/04/09 07:39 PM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: Dillbag]
chip Online   content
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 10/06/01
Posts: 2676
Loc: Sittin' Pretty in Fat City
Yes, there is a very visceral response to seeing a cougar, especially up close. Last time for me was at night and crouched under a line of scrub about 30 feet away. Every hair stood on end. It isn't all that different though, from the response when I've almost stepped on snakes or had birds fly out of a crack into my face when climbing. the big difference is that the other incidents are over almost immediately and you know intellectually that the danger is over. Not so with a big cat. It was a long, long hike back to the car.
I can understand why locals would resist re-introduction attempts for wolves and cougar. Small kids would be a nice snack for an injured or sick cougar. It seems the work around Yellowstone has been successful for wolves, even though there continues to be some rancher resistence. Heck, we are talking livelihood in what is already a tenuous way of life for ranchers.
Yorick, I really appreciate your knowledge of this subject and willingness to explain this to us. I hope the involved areas can recieve enough education to overcome the objections. After all, they make a great rug!

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#43369 - 03/05/09 03:33 PM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: chip]
phlan Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/11/00
Posts: 2778
Loc: Gardiner, NY
I for one am heartily in agreement with bringing cougars back to our mountains.
Therefore I propose the following sensible and shortcut solution, cutting all the red tape.
Yorick, I volunteer my services and my pickup truck to the cause.
We drive to the Dakotas where they will happily give us a healthy young male and female, and we put them in the back and bounce our way all the way back to the Gunks. We'll have to carry a large supply of fresh red meat to keep their appetites satisfied. No problem, right?
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#43376 - 03/05/09 10:24 PM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: phlan]
yorick Offline
old hand

Registered: 11/15/02
Posts: 1041
Loc: hamlet\'s hand
Right, an unsanctioned release, no problem. And the ranger whose wedding I presided over gets to arrest me.

Not a chance.

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#43377 - 03/06/09 12:33 AM Re: Big cat lecture [Re: yorick]
phlan Offline

Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 02/11/00
Posts: 2778
Loc: Gardiner, NY
oh, we just won't tell Rob, silly. he'll never know.
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