Big cats in Michigan
Dang, I go mushroom hunting up there! Guess I will be carrying next time.
I've been hearing more and more about them so here is some interesting reading.
Here is the link to the original article... http://www.ohio.com/mld/ohio/living/...0011885.htm?1c
Posted on Mon, Oct. 25, 2004
Big cats are back
Park signs warn of cougars at Sleeping Bear Dunes. Michigan officials seek proof
By Bob Downing
Beacon Journal staff writer
EMPIRE, MICH. - Something new is at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore: cougar-warning signs.
And likely cougars or mountain lions.
Signs are prominently posted at the park's visitor centers and all 13 trailheads in the wake of repeated cougar sightings in and around the park that lies along Lake Michigan west of Traverse City.
The park's message is simple and is intended to raise public awareness: You are a visitor in cougar country. Cougars deserve your respect and attention. You are no longer atop the food chain.
It is very rare to see a cougar, but the National Park Service wants the 1.1 million annual visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes to know what to do and what not to do if they encounter one of the tawny-colored cats with black-tipped ears and tails.
The risk to humans is small but real. Cougars have killed 20 people in North America and injured 75 in the last 100 years, according to researchers.
But there have been more attacks in recent years in Western states such as California, Colorado and Arizona, where human-cougar encounters are growing.
Cougars were once common in Michigan's 83 counties, but they were wiped out by bounty hunters by the early 1900s.
Protect wildlife by protecting yourself, the park says.
What to do
The park's cougar advice is:
Do not travel alone in the park. Travel in groups whenever possible.
Keep your children next to you while hiking.
Keep your dog on a leash.
Do not approach a cougar.
Use care when crawling on your hands and knees or when bending over.
If you encounter a cougar, remain calm and do not run.
Pick up small children immediately.
Stand up and spread your arms to make yourself look big.
Maintain eye contact with the cat. Back away slowly.
If approached, wave your arms, shout and throw sticks or rocks.
If attacked, fight back aggressively.
The warning signs went up a year ago, triggered by growing numbers of sightings by credible witnesses including wildlife biologists and rangers at Sleeping Bear Dunes, said Tom Ulrich, assistant park superintendent.
Park officials are convinced that the park has a mountain lion or lions, although no one knows how many cats might be in and around the 71,000-acre park, he said. ``We have no idea how many cougars we may have,'' he said in a telephone interview.
No one at the park has been attacked by cougars, he said.
Many of the sightings were along the Old Indian Trail at the southern end of the park near Frankfort.
Park volunteer Eleanor Cummings, in a widely publicized incident, came within three feet of a cougar that stalked her along that trail for 20 minutes in September 2003, but it never attacked her.
The park's sightings have increased from one every few years in the early 1980s to perhaps 20 a year in the park at the northwest corner of Michigan's Lower Peninsula, Ulrich said.
Park officials are confident that visitors to Sleeping Bear Dunes are safe and not at risk, but they felt that posting the cougar warnings was the best way to alert the public in the unlikely event of a cat attack, he said.
The park has gotten little public response to the warnings that are patterned after similar signs at Big Bend in Texas and Santa Monica Mountains in California, he said.
State looks for proof
But strangely, the Sleeping Bear Dunes signs went up -- even though the Michigan Department of Natural Resources says it has no proof of cougars in Michigan.
``We continue to look for conclusive proof... but we are unable to substantiate much of anything at all on cougars,'' said agency spokesman Brad Wurfel.
``We hold the possibility that there could be a few cougars in Michigan.... But we have no proof of that and we have absolutely no proof that we have a wild, breeding population of cougars,'' he said.
``We have not found cougars and we honestly don't know if we have cougars. We have no proof, but we keep the possibility open. We keep an open mind.''
It is possible that some cougar reports may be linked to captive-bred animals that were later released into the wild, he said.
But Michigan certainly has suitable habitat for cougars and lots of white-tailed deer that cougars would eat, he said.
Michigan feels no need to post cougar warnings at its state parks, in light of the federal action at Sleeping Bear Dunes, he said. ``They can do what they feel they need to do, but we don't have warnings,'' Wurfel said.
The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, a grass-roots group based in Bath, Mich., believes that cougars exist in at least eight Michigan counties and that the cats are reproducing.
The group is convinced that not all the cougars were killed and that Michigan's remnant population is thriving and spreading, said spokesman Pat Rusz.
His group says there is firm evidence of cougars in 17 counties: Benzie and Leelanau (Sleeping Bear Dunes), Alcona, Oscoda, Menoninee, Delta, Mackinac, Schoolcraft, Roscommon, Emmet, Dickinson, Presque Isle, Houghton, Wexford, Cheyboygan, Monroe and Kalkaska counties.
That includes DNA evidence from scat or feces in eight counties and confirmed tracks, photographs, deer kills and other evidence in nine other counties, he said.
In all, the conservancy believes there are perhaps 50 to 80 cougars across Michigan, he said.
That probably includes at least three separate cougars in and around Sleeping Bear Dunes where he has done research for the park, said Rusz. There are three different-sized footprints in the area, he said.
The number of reports in that area is close to a dozen reports per month, when you take into account reports from inside and outside the park, he says.
His group claims that perhaps 10,000 Michiganders have seen cougars over the years.
``We're not dealing with ghosts. These are real cats. And they're out there. And they can be found. The evidence is there and it's compelling.'' he said.
The group also offers its own advice to Michigan homeowners:
Make a lot of noise if you come and go from dusk to dawn when cougars are most active.
Install outdoor lighting.
Keep pets inside at night or in kennel with secure top. Do not feed pets outside because that may attract prey animals.
Store garbage securely to avoid attracting raccoons.
Don't feed wildlife. Predators follow prey.
Keep livestock in enclosed sheds or barns and close doors to outbuildings.
Other tips that the group offers include for those who might encounter cougars:
Carry a sturdy walking stick while hiking.
Do not jog alone.
Carry a whistle, noisemaker or perhaps Mace or pepper spray.
Jogging with a dog may be more dangerous because the cougar sees the dog as prey.
Cougars are listed as an endangered species in Michigan.
Cougars in Appalachia?
The Michigan sightings, if real, would mark one of the first confirmed cougar reports in the eastern United States.
There are many who believe that cougars may be found in small pockets in the Appalachians but there is no confirmed evidence to date, wildlife officials said.
The cats are also being reported moving into some Midwest states since 1990: Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and Arkansas.
For more information, check out the Internet sites at www.nps.gov/slbe, www.michigan.gov/dnr and www.miwildlife.org.
You can also check with the Eastern Cougar Network, a grass-roots group based in West Virginia, at www.easterncougarnet.org.
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