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#56807 - 03/02/11 08:27 PM Eastern Cougar Extinct
acdnyc Offline
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Registered: 11/10/04
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#56812 - 03/03/11 01:41 AM Re: Eastern Cougar Extinct [Re: acdnyc]
yorick Offline
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Registered: 11/15/02
Posts: 1041
Loc: hamlet\'s hand
The longer AP version includes ecology points formerly discussed here.

By MICHAEL RUBINKAM, Associated Press Michael Rubinkam, Associated Press – Wed Mar 2, 4:04 pm ET

ALLENTOWN, Pa. – The "ghost cat" is just that.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday declared the eastern cougar to be extinct, confirming a widely held belief among wildlife biologists that native populations of the big cat were wiped out by man a century ago.

After a lengthy review, federal officials concluded there are no breeding populations of cougars — also known as pumas, panthers, mountain lions and catamounts — in the eastern United States. Researchers believe the eastern cougar subspecies has probably been extinct since the 1930s.

Wednesday's declaration paves the way for the eastern cougar to be removed from the endangered species list, where it was placed in 1973. The agency's decision to declare the eastern cougar extinct does not affect the status of the Florida panther, another endangered wildcat.

Some hunters and outdoors enthusiasts have long insisted there's a small breeding population of eastern cougars, saying the secretive cats have simply eluded detection — hence the "ghost cat" moniker. The wildlife service said Wednesday it confirmed 108 sightings between 1900 and 2010, but that these animals either escaped or were released from captivity, or migrated from western states to the Midwest.

"The Fish and Wildlife Service fully believes that some people have seen cougars, and that was an important part of the review that we did," said Mark McCollough, an endangered species biologist who led the agency's eastern cougar study. "We went on to evaluate where these animals would be coming from."

A breeding population of eastern cougars would almost certainly have left evidence of its existence, he said. Cats would have been hit by cars or caught in traps, left tracks in the snow or turned up on any of the hundreds of thousands of trail cameras that dot Eastern forests.

But researchers have come up empty.

The private Eastern Cougar Foundation, for example, spent a decade looking for evidence. Finding none, it changed its name to the Cougar Rewilding Foundation last year and shifted its focus from confirming sightings to advocating for the restoration of the big cat to its pre-colonial habitat.

"We would have loved nothing more than for there to be a remnant wild population of cougars on the East Coast," said Christopher Spatz, the foundation's president. "We're not seeing (evidence) because they're not here."

Others maintain that wild cougars still prowl east of the Mississippi.

Ray Sedorchuk, 45, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, said he got an excellent look at a cougar last June in rural Bradford County, in northern Pennsylvania. He was in his truck when a reddish-brown animal with a long tail crossed the road. He said he jammed on the brakes, and the cougar stopped in its tracks.

"I could see the body, the tail and the head, the entire animal, perfectly. It's not a bobcat, it's not a housecat, it's a cougar," he said. "It's a sleek animal. It ran low to the ground and stealth-like. It moved with elegance."

Sedorchuk, a freelance writer who spends copious amounts of time in the woods, said he'd always been skeptical of the eastern cougar's existence, even as two of his friends insisted to him that they had seen them in the wild.

And now?

"I believe that they're here, without even thinking twice about it," he said. "I believe there aren't that many, but there are enough where they can get together and breed."

Once widely dispersed throughout the eastern United States, the mountain lion was all but wiped out by the turn of the last century. Cougars were killed in vast numbers, and states even held bounties. A nearly catastrophic decline in white-tailed deer — the main prey of mountain lions — also contributed to the species' extirpation.

McCollough said the last wild cougar was believed to have been killed in Maine in 1938.

The wildlife service treated the eastern cougar as a distinct subspecies, even though some biologists now believe it is genetically the same as its western brethren, which is increasing in number and extending its range. Some experts believe that mountain lions will eventually make their way back East.

The loss of a top-level predator like the cougar has had ecological consequences, including an explosion in the deer population and a corresponding decline in the health of Eastern forests.

"Our ecosystems are collapsing up and down the East Coast, and they're collapsing because we have too many white-tailed deer," said Spatz. "Our forests are not being permitted to regenerate."

Cougars and wolves, he said, would thin the deer herd through direct predation while also acting as "natural shepherds," forcing deer to become more vigilant and "stop browsing like cattle."

Spatz's group would like the federal government to reintroduce cougars and wolves to the eastern United States, though he acknowledged any such plan would come up against fierce resistance.

The wildlife service said Wednesday it has no authority under the Endangered Species Act to reintroduce the mountain lion to the East.
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#56814 - 03/03/11 01:46 AM Re: Eastern Cougar Extinct [Re: yorick]
yorick Offline
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Registered: 11/15/02
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CBD's take.

Eastern Cougar Declared Officially Extinct;
Florida Panther Still Has a Chance If Reintroduced to Okefenokee

SILVER CITY, N.M.— The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today declared the eastern cougar, a subspecies of the puma or mountain lion, extinct following a status review that could not authenticate any records of the animal since the last confirmed individual was killed in 1938 in Maine. Only one other subspecies of puma from the eastern United States — the Florida panther — survives. Florida panthers once ranged throughout the Southeast, but are now besieged by sprawl in a single, remnant population in South Florida.

"Official confirmation of the eastern cougar's extinction is a belated warning that our ecosystems are out of whack, as many a backyard gardener finds out when confronted with damage by voracious deer," said Michael Robinson, with the Center for Biological Diversity. "But we still have a chance to recover the Florida panther by saving habitat in its current range and reintroducing the animal to its historic range. If we can do that, we'll help restore nature's balance at the same time."

On Feb. 10, 2011, the Center petitioned Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reintroduce Florida panthers to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge and surrounding lands in south Georgia and north Florida. Reintroduction is called for in the 2008 Florida panther recovery plan, but the Fish and Wildlife Service is stalling in carrying it out. Three studies — one based on GIS computer mapping and two involving Texas pumas that were introduced into the wild as surrogates for Florida panthers, then removed after years of careful monitoring — identified the Okefenokee refuge and surrounding lands as suitable for reintroduction.

Reintroduction of Florida panthers would also help curb feral hog consumption of sensitive native plants. The hogs are nonnative and eat the saplings of longleaf pines that were planted on the refuge to help restore a forest that has been reduced to just 3 percent of its original range. Panthers prey on hogs, and would therefore help to restore a forest ecosystem upon which many other endangered animals rely.

"It is still not too late for the Florida panther," said Robinson. "To save the panther in its existing range, the Interior Department must designate critical habitat. To recover the panther and bring back the vanishing longleaf pine forest where panthers used to roam, reintroduction to the greater Okefenokee ecosystem is essential."

Today also marks the two-year anniversary of the killing of the last known wild American jaguar, Macho B, who was euthanized on March 2, 2009, after a bungled snaring operation by the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
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#57917 - 06/11/11 06:42 PM Re: Eastern Cougar Extinct [Re: yorick]
chazman Offline
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Registered: 02/07/02
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#57934 - 06/12/11 05:30 PM Re: Eastern Cougar Extinct [Re: chazman]
yorick Offline
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Registered: 11/15/02
Posts: 1041
Loc: hamlet\'s hand
The stomach/intestine contents, the fat layer, the parasite load, the wear on its pads and teeth, the DNA and whether it has been declawed/tattooed will determine where it's from.

I polled the audience before a talk I gave in CT on Friday night on whether folks thought reports of the Greenwich cat might be of a wild cougar, a DEP release, a former captive or a misidentification of another animal. Even splits between the first three; a handful thought it might be something else.

Four hours later, the cat was dead, having negotiated 35 miles of one of the nastiest urban corridors in the northeast.

Amazing.
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#57946 - 06/13/11 01:42 PM Re: Eastern Cougar Extinct [Re: yorick]
chip Offline
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Registered: 10/06/01
Posts: 2675
Loc: Sittin' Pretty in Fat City
Please let us know what you learn. I don't know how many puma are needed in how dense an area to get a sustainable population going. I expect at least a few hundred kitty cats would be needed.

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#58016 - 06/16/11 01:28 AM Re: Eastern Cougar Extinct [Re: chip]
Rickster Offline
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Registered: 10/16/07
Posts: 845
Loc: Orange Cty, NY
Originally Posted By: chip
. I expect at least a few hundred kitty cats would be needed.

The recent sightings and death of a mountain lion in Ct. piqued my curiosity. I found this website http://www.uwsp.edu/wildlife/carnivore/Mountain%20Lion%20PVA_files/Mountain%20Lion%20PVA_copy(1).htm
and they discuss what would be necessary to re-establish a viable mountain lion population in Wisconsin. They figure the state's carrying capacity at 125 animals with a 2:1 male female ratio. Population numbers lower than 50 would result in 0 population in 100 years. I'm no field biologist, and won't draw any conclusions from the report. But, I'd be interested in knowing what the carrying capacity of NYS, Ct or other New England states might be.

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#58017 - 06/16/11 02:15 AM Re: Eastern Cougar Extinct [Re: Rickster]
yorick Offline
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Registered: 11/15/02
Posts: 1041
Loc: hamlet\'s hand
Our VP just completed a habitat assessment for the Daks, which he thinks can support at least 300 cougars. When he submitted it for publication, one of the reviewers suggested he didn't need buffers around buildings and settlements (the reviewer had studied cougars in SoCal for more than a decade, where we learned that they're about as adaptable as coyotes), that it's all cougar habitat. The male/female ratio in situ is about 1:4. Wisconsin can certainly handle more than 125.

California supports about 5,000, http://www.dfg.ca.gov/keepmewild/images/lion_map.png
(the white areas, about 1/3 of the state, isn't any good) in area and human population comparable to ME, NH, VT, NY, PA and WV combined. We've got more deer and cover, so NY might be able to support as many as 1,000. The Catskills are about the same area as the Big Cypress Swamp in southern Florida, which supports 120-150 panthers.

Maybe a half dozen for the northern Gunks, including the basins on either side. Man, does that notion pique the wodwo in me.

Update on the CT cat. Nails in tact. No tattoos. Fit, not fat as if it had been caged or penned, so no superficial signs of obvious captivity. The necropsy will tell more.
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#58022 - 06/16/11 12:34 PM Re: Eastern Cougar Extinct [Re: yorick]
Rickster Offline
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Registered: 10/16/07
Posts: 845
Loc: Orange Cty, NY
Yorick, thanks for the info and the update on CT's big cat.

I bet fewer folks would be letting their dogs off the leash when out and about the woods, should the time ever come when a major predator returns east in higher numbers.

Personally, I've mixed feelings about the success of various species in coming back in such numbers. I very much enjoy the fact that ospreys, eagles, peregrines, even coyotes are returning in such numbers, but whoa, wait, now I'm going to be sharing the woods year round with >200 lb cougars? I've only just gotten use to all the copperheads in the talus, and besides, I hate cats! wink


Edited by Rickster (06/16/11 12:36 PM)

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#58023 - 06/16/11 02:04 PM Re: Eastern Cougar Extinct [Re: Rickster]
Mim Offline
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Registered: 01/27/00
Posts: 998
Loc: Gunks
We need a predator to control the deer population - I think. Hunting is not enough. But ditto about the uneasy feeling of being down the food chain...
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