Conservancy: Animal spotted in all counties
Courtney Bowerman – Capital News Service – October 6, 2008 – From Lansing State Journal
A cougar population boom?
The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy says yes, and the Department of Natural Resources says no.
Dennis Fijalkowski, executive director of the Bath-based conservancy, said cougars have lived in Michigan for years, especially in the southwestern Lower Peninsula and central Upper Peninsula.
“There has been an increase in cougar sightings because of the increased awareness of cougars,” Fijalkowski said. “Ten years ago, people didn’t even know that there were cougars in Michigan. We’ve had sightings reported in all 83 counties.”
The most recent report occurred in Jackson in September, when a horse was found mauled to death. The conservancy and a local veterinarian confirmed a cougar attack was responsible, concluding that no other animal could have inflicted the severe injuries.
However, Mary Dett-loff, the DNR public information officer, said the department sent photos of the horse after the attack to biologists in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. The experts determined that although a wild animal had inflicted the injuries, it could not have been a cougar.
The DNR has confirmed about three sets of cougar tracks in the Upper Peninsula this year, she said, adding, “The cougars seen are mostly migrating males that have been dispersed from Western states. It’s not unusual for cougars to travel several hundred miles on foot as long as they have a food source.”
Yet according to Fijalkowski, cougars survive in some of the more remote areas in Michigan.
Money is a key reason for the DNR to hide evidence of a growing cougar population, he said.
“The DNR thinks that acknowledging the cougars will cost money,” Fijalkowski said. “It’s a struggle between our great predator and the employees.”
He said that if there were proof of cougars in Michigan, the department would have to adopt policies to protect people while also protecting cougars from being shot. With regulations, landowners are free to shoot them on sight.
Tony Hansen, director of communications at the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC), said he doesn’t know which organization is right. At a 2007 meeting of the Natural Resources Commission, an expert viewed videos taken by people who claimed to have seen cougars, but most turned out to be bobcats or house cats.
Although the MUCC is following up on reports filed with the DNR, it doesn’t have an official stance on the question. “Both sides think they have compelling evidence,” Hansen said. “Until you actually have a cougar alive or dead, it will continue to remain a mystery.”
Fijalkowski said legislative hearings are needed to discuss the reported sightings.
“Cougars have killed 19 people since 1890 in North America. The majority of killings happened in the last 20 years, and now it’s picking up. We want to protect the cougars, but we don’t want them killing people,” he said.
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