Posted by: Loren Coleman on January 30th, 2009
The long-running campaign to force the Department of Natural Resources to recognize the wild cougar population in Michigan arrived at the state Legislature Thursday [January 29, 2009] morning, as a Senate committee took testimony from a dozen eyewitnesses and experts who claimed evidence of the animals’ presence is indisputable.
Mountain lion, puma, or cougar tracks in Michigan. (Photo credit: Mike Zuidema)
Cougars have been seen by hundreds of people in Michigan over the last 25 years, filmed and photographed, their tracks and droppings confirmed by scientists and attacks on livestock documented, the witnesses said.
Michigan has “a bonafide resident … self-sustaining cougar population,” said Pat Rusz, research biologist with the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.
But the DNR refuses to acknowledge their presence, and discredits and ridicules assertions to the contrary, he said.
DNR officials did not testify at the hearing of the Senate Agriculture Committee. In the past, department officials have issued mixed signals about Michigan cougars. At times acknowledging the veracity of sightings and evidence, at others dismissing them.
DNR spokeswoman Mary Detloff said after the hearing most of the reports forwarded to the department about cougar cannot be verified. Others have been debunked and some are outright falsehoods, she said.
The department believes the verified sightings have been of so-called “transient” cougars originating from an established population in the Dakotas, Detloff said, not a Michigan-based breeding population.
The Wildlife Conservancy is seeking to have the DNR recognize that small but viable breeding populations of cougar have been established in the Upper and Lower peninsulas. And to have the agency implement a management plan to ensure their survival.
Committee Chairman Gerald Van Woerkom, R-Muskegon, said the DNR’s refusal to act may poses a threat to people and livestock. But he said he is not sure what, if anything, the Legislature can do about it.
“We can’t pass a law that says, ‘Yes there are cougar in Michigan,’” he said. “I just don’t understand the denial.”
Source: “Yes, there are cougars in Michigan, witnesses tell panel: DNR is pressed to recognize presence, offer protection,” by Dawson Bell, Free Press, Detroit, Michigan, January 29, 2009.
Thanks to John Lutz for passing this along.