AR-News: (WI) Pat Durkin column: Cougar study not viable option
WeArPetitions at aol.com
WeArPetitions at aol.com
Sun Nov 2 08:40:52 EST 2003
Posted Nov. 02, 2003
When a cougar sighting in Wisconsin gets publicity, the person reporting it
often resents DNR biologists who say there is no evidence of a wild cougar
population anywhere in the state.
That doesn’t mean wild cougars don’t live in Wisconsin. It only means the
Department of Natural Resources has no evidence they live or reproduce in the
wild. I assume the cougar sighters get huffy about the DNR because they think
state biologists lump them into the same category as Elvis spotters. Some might
deserve the slight, but it’s unfair to suggest the DNR slides every cougar
report into its UFO file.
Why the cougar crowd so desires the DNR’s validation baffles me. After all,
this is the same agency that’s widely scorned whenever it discusses
white-tailed deer, even though it has nearly 70 years of home-grown science on its side.
I doubt we’d feel better about the cougar’s status if DNR Secretary Scott
Hassett declared tomorrow: “OK, the cat’s out of the bag. Yes, Wisconsin has a
handful of wild cougars, and we’re monitoring the situation. We’ll consider
control measures if they threaten our moose population or prevent the return of
Interest in cougars isn’t unique to Wisconsin. Across the lake, some Michigan
folks believe their DNR is neglecting cougar research. A group called the
Michigan Wildlife Conservancy is trying to fill the alleged void by raising money
for private research.
Meanwhile, farmers last week in northwestern Iowa shot a cougar in a
cornfield after deciding it posed a threat to area livestock and children. You’ll be
relieved to learn its stomach didn’t contain the ear tags from a cow or the
clip-on mittens from a kindergartner, just the remains of a raccoon or badger.
Critics might think Wisconsin isn’t doing enough to verify the presence of
wild cougars, but let’s concede it’s hard to make that a priority when our
state budget has no money to replace scores of retiring wardens, fish biologists
and wildlife managers.
Besides, the state has at least four ongoing surveys that try to monitor
cougars. In 2002, the DNR’s report on rare mammals listed 52 individual cougar
sightings, including nine in Oneida County, and five each in Iron and Forest
counties. Also, the DNR’s 2002 survey of bobcat hunters and trappers reported
eight cougar sightings and 16 sets of cougar tracks. Its annual wildlife survey of
bowhunters, however, revealed no cougar sightings. For perspective, the
bobcat hunters and trappers spotted 208 timber wolves and 509 wolf tracks.
In addition, since 1995 the state has conducted two winter track surveys to
monitor wolves, one by DNR personnel and one by volunteers, Both surveys cover
3,000 miles of trails, with the crews instructed to record the tracks of
wolves, cougars, lynx and wolverines. Only once have they found anything resembling
a cougar track.
Adrian Wydeven, the state’s wolf biologist, monitors reports of all rare
mammals in Wisconsin. He said most cougar sightings can’t be verified, and some
are dismissed when tracks turn out to be made by bobcats, dogs and even foxes.
Although several sightings each year are likely cougars, they’re often traced
to releases of captive-raised animals or listed as unknown.
“We have the ‘net’ out there every year,” he said. “We have an open mind.
About 30 years ago, some people questioned the wolf’s existence in Wisconsin.
When we found evidence of a wild population, we demonstrated our ability to
manage for wolves. If we could demonstrate we have a cougar population, I’m
confident we could set up a cougar-management plan.”
If those efforts aren’t good enough for some people, I’d suggest they pursue
Michigan’s idea and let the private sector pay for cougar research.
Patrick Durkin writes a weekly column for The Northwestern. He may be reached
at 721 Wesley St., Waupaca, Wis., 54981; or by e-mail at
patrickdurkin at charter.net.
It can truly be said: Men are the devils of the earth, and the animals are
the tormented souls. --Arthur Schopenhauer
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