Michigan Cougar Not Extinct
A U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) report issued earlier this week has concluded that the eastern subspecies of the cougar is extinct; however, this has no bearing on cougars in Michigan, according to the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
"The USFWS has determined the eastern cougar to be extinct, and this has no bearing on cougars in Michigan," said DNRE Wildlife Chief Russ Mason. "The cougars present in Michigan are dispersing from the Dakotas, where the nearest established population exists."
The report was a routine review of status of the cougar species. The review included the most recent genetics, ecology and sightings of this subspecies. Because no evidence for the subspecies could be found, the status review determined that the subspecies is extinct and recommended its status be changed from endangered to extinct.
The status review does not change the status of cougars in Michigan, which would occur as a federal rule change at some time in the future. For more information on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report please visit http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar/newsreleasefinal.html.
Cougars were originally native to Michigan, but were extirpated from Michigan around the turn of the century. The last known wild cougar taken in the state occurred in 1906 near Newberry.
"There is little agreement among cougar researchers as to the number of separate subspecies, and whether to separate them by genetics or appearance," said Christopher Hoving, DNRE endangered species coordinator. "The eastern cougar (Puma concolor couguar) was known to occur only in the Lower Peninsula. A separate subspecies was described in the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin, called Puma concolor shorgeri. Other subspecies of cougar exist in the western United States, where populations continue to grow and expand eastward. However, many researchers now consider all cougars in North America to be one subspecies."
Regardless of subspecies, DNRE biologists have verified five sets of tracks and two trail camera pictures of cougars in the Upper Peninsula since 2008. These sightings probably represent dispersing cats from western populations.
"The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report has little effect on cougar conservation in Michigan because the entire species is listed, regardless of subspecies," Hoving said. "All wild cougars in Michigan will remain state endangered until the population is viable and self-sustaining."
For more information on cougars in Michigan, visit the DNRE website at www.michigan.gov/cougars. The website contains an online observation form to use to report sightings. Sightings with physical evidence, such as tracks or pictures, are most useful in verifying a potential cougar sighting.
The Department of Natural Resources and Environment is committed to the conservation, protection, management, and accessible use and enjoyment of the state's environment, natural resources, and related economic interests for current and future generations. Learn more at www.michigan.gov/dnre.