Friday, June 15, 2012

Cougars Expanding Their Range: At Last!

If you haven't heard the article 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.