Friday, June 15, 2012

Cougars Expanding Their Range: At Last!


If you haven't heard the article this week about "Cougars make a comeback after a century of decline" then I would suggest you do.  This along with the new newsletter from the Cougar Rewildling Foundation brings the research of cougar sightings to new light.  After a long time of speculation about cougar expansion and even more denial about whether or not they were found outside of the known western states, a new report confirms that cougars have been migrating to "greener pastures."

To summarize,  since the 1990's mountain lions have began to expand to other territories. This includes female cougars, not just the typical "roadtripping" young males.  The well established populations act as the Mainland population of a Mainland-Island Metapopulation.  The cougars move into pockets of suitable habitat outside of the main population, and the main population supplies more individuals to help a burgeoning new population.  With the new evidence of cougars traveling incredible distances to new habitat (a cougar from South Dakota ended up in Connecticut), its not impossible for cougars to recolonize the lower 48.   Although there are a few major obstacles in the cougar's way. 

The two most detrimental obstacles to the reestablishment of cougars in the east coastal states are limited habitat and public opinion. The coastal states have seen an increase in population (of humans that is) in the 100 year absence of the cougar.  More development of cities, and fewer large, intact, undisturbed tracts of forest for cougars to call home.  That doesn't mean there isn't ANY, just that its not as abundant.  But I have to say that mountain lions seem to cohabitate well with close human proximity in California. 

Secondly, the public is not unanimously happy with cougars in their backyard.  In states which currently have been mostly cougar free for a century, the public is scared to allow large predatory felines to live near them.  In fact, that was one reason why they were extirpated in the first place. People also have an opinion that cougars will interfere with their hunting of game species.  The public has tow opinions: there are too many deer, or there are too few deer.  Some believe that cougars are greatly decreasing the population of deer and that fewer cougars means more deer.  However incredibly narrow-sighted that is, this has become a sticking point in the Black Hills population. 

Where it is good or bad in your opinion, cougars are making a comeback, and I for one am incredibly excited with these prospects.  To read the BBC article on information, you can find it HERE.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Why Did the Florida Panther Cross the Road?

I just got back from Cougar Country this past week. Well, actually it was Panther Paradise. The Bald Cypress National Preserve is home to many of the 100-150 remaining Florida Panthers. Even though the scientists we spoke to had seen panthers in the area, luck was not on our side for getting a glimpse of the rare and elusive cats. Even though the habitat we hiked through was perfect for these predators, factors such as increasing populations of panthers and increasing urban sprawl has pushed them closer to dangerous situations. This year alone 9 panthers have been killed by car collisions. That is a lot compared to how many are left in the wild. I found an article this week about what scientists are doing to provide safer passage for panthers when they move from one Everglades water conservations area to another. I believe it is a great idea for the benefit of all Floridian wildlife and hopefully will allow panther to pass freely through the region. Check out the article from the Sierra Club website: Panther at the Crossroads. and check out the AMAZING photos Heather Green took of Florida Panthers in the Bald Cypress National Preserve in her flickr photostream.

Friday, August 5, 2011

This I Believe: Mountains

This I Believe is a collection of short essays by people from all walks of life, famous and everyday. We all have a story and a belief. Our Natural Resources students this semester are going to read the essays and write their own essay about their connection with Natural Resources. I thought I would like to share one of my own.

I believe in mountains and their preservation. Returning from a long trip to Ohio, I saw the mountains again, and let out a breath, as if I were holding it all the while I was away. For me, the mountains are home. These are the rolling monuments of green forests that are home to a diverse array of ecosystems and creatures. They are the temples I have grown up around, but now they are in trouble.

When I looked upon the moonscape in front of me, I had the same initial shock one has when viewing the Grand Canyon. This time, it wasn’t a feeling of awe; moreover it was incomprehensible to my mind the size and bleakness of the destruction which stretched before me. The enormous area of rubble was a Mountaintop Removal mine in West Virginia. One of hundreds, just like it. The devastation was so horrible, I had to look away, but I couldn’t, my eyes glued to the scene of the murder. Yes, a murder. What was once a beautiful mountain, teeming with life is now a desolate moonscape. This mountain was brought to its knees by greed. Yours and my greed, for coal.

My great-grandfathers were both coal miners. They endured dangerous conditions, dark tunnels, and black coal dust to give their families a heat source. Coal powers thousands of power plants across the world which in turn run our; TVs, air conditioners, computers, refrigerators, clothes washers and phones. I can trace my electricity use back to the power plant, and even the mines where the coal comes from, including this very one I stood on.

But mountaintop removal is much more than a way to satisfy a country’s hunger for energy. It literally brings the whole mountain crashing down. The skin of the mountain is peeled away as the living forest is cleared, gone forever. Then its bones are broken as the very rock is blasted and dumped aside. Only then can the black blood from the veins of the mountain be extracted. An entire mountain vanishes from existence.

Maybe never will this once-skyscraper be the site of life which it used to know. Gone are the trees, flowers, birds, deer, bear and butterfly which called the mountain home. Moreover, mountaintop removal mines impact people. Homes are destroyed from the mining, sometimes buried under the rubble and rock removed from the peak. Toxic dust and metals leach into the air and water, affecting humans and wildlife far from the epicenter.

The mountains are so much a part of me; I feel the loss of that mountain, and many others like it. You can try to patch the scar, but it will never be the same again. This is why I also believe in green energy. Alternative energy sources like wind, solar and geothermal energy can sever our dependence on coal and save our mountains. These alternative sources of energy may not only save the mountains, but our world from increased Global Warming. As for the mountains, they are still part of me, no matter where I go.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Connecticut Cougar!

So, I haven't written in a while, which is only because I have been busy with the other blog (www.projecttracejournal.blogspot.com)

To get back to all news cougar, there was an exciting moment back in May when my father believed he saw a cougar in Montgomery County, Virginia. That is near us, so I was putting trail cameras out on the mountain. Sadly, two of the three cameras are not working well, so pictures were few and none of cougars.

However, there has been some nationally new of the cougar front. Since the delisting of Eastern Cougars on the Endangered Species List, one popped up in Connecticut. Strangely, the same week I was also in Connecticut. Coincidence? I think not.

Anyway, the Connecticut cougar was found killed on a road (very sad for all us animal lovers) BUT it was a way to prove its existence in Connecticut. First theories were that it was an escaped pet which didn't know how to avoid humans and cross traffic and got killed. A typical belief to dismiss any belief about wild populations.

HOWEVER.... after a DNA test, there was a revelation in the origin of this animal. I feel like I'm writing a origin story about a Marvel superhero called Connecticut Cougar. Well, the life of this cougar is nothing but extraordinary. The cougar's home is the Black Hills in South Dakota, a small, known population of cougars. Then, how did this one get to Connecticut? This is the best part, the cougar made a journey of 1,500 miles; the longest ever recorded journey for a mountain lion.

It was a young male, looking for more territory and girl cougars (the feline type). They are known to travel, but not more than 100 miles for a mate. I cannot say if he ever found one. This journey is very important in the view of cougars and dispersal into historic eastern ranges. It means that a cougar can travel across about half of the US to find greener pastures, and that may mean they can reach any state in the Eastern US. This is amazing news for us conservationists and cougar zoologists. It may mean that soon (if not already) my state of Virginia will have cougar(s) from South Dakota.

These aren't "Eastern" cougars, but who cares? Our forests and ecosystem needs these top predators. I can't wait until one pops up in my trail camera photo and we can all ponder more rationally if it is a wild one or a released pet. Because the one pioneer which sadly lost his life, has spread the word that not all "eastern" cougars are former pets. Thank you friend.

To learn more about this particular cat, follow the link.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Eastern Cougar Delisted from ESA

Yeah, I've been reluctant to post this news because its a blow to any cougar existing in the eastern US. The US Fish and Wildlife Service has found no indication of cougars inhabiting the eastern United States including (Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Maine. So if you have seen a mountain lion in one of these states, they think you must be seeing things.

SO from here..... we push for reintroduction. Yellowstone did it, why not places in the east with cougars? Virginia is reintroduction elk, how much harder would mountain lions be to reintroduce? Probably not from an ecological standpoint, but from a citizen standpoint, there is much conflict. Chin up everyone, and don't stop believing. I know that I will continue to prove their existence.....

Here is a link to cougar delisting articles...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Camera Trapping at the Kill



The long wait is over to find out about activity near the deer carcass I found recently. I let the camera sit for a month up near the carcass itself (which was just off a trail). In this time we left it we had snow, freezing rain, warm weather and freezing cold, so I was amazed to find the camera working perfectly.

I can now add several animals to the list of creatures I've "camera-trapped." There is a great diversity. Past animals: Deer, Black Bear, Raccoon, Opossum, Woodchuck, squirrel, donkey (seriously), robin, crow, house cat, person.

Now I can add: coyote, Red Tailed Hawk, and Grey Fox to that list.

a red tailed hawk scavenging on the deer:

Grey Fox:


A coyote which I had believed to have eaten on the deer when we first saw the carcass.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New Home for Florida Panthers?

A petition which was recently sent to Ken Salazar (US secretary of the Interior). It detailed a proposal to expand the current Florida Panther reintroduction range into Northern Florida and Southern Georgia.

"The petition requests that the Interior Department issue a rule authorizing the release of panthers in and around the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, an area unoccupied by Florida panthers but part of their historic range" (Michael J. Robinson,Center for Biological Diversity).

"Florida panthers used to live throughout the Southeast, but currently the only breeding population consists of 100 to 120 animals in South Florida that are distributed across less than 5 percent of the species’ historic range. The recovery plan calls for protecting remaining occupied habitat and establishing two new populations of at least 240 animals each through reintroduction" (Robinson).

TO read the entire petition and more information about the Florida Panther go Here (PDF): Petition