Though mountain lions once roamed the hills and forests of West Virginia, persecution at the hands of humans has driven them locally extinct in the state.
Fear and misinformation were the main forces driving this extirpation.
But attitudes have changed since the early 1900s and there's hope for the future.
If we support mountain lion-friendly legislation, open space conservation, and preserve corridors connecting potential habitat, we could reverse this situation and bring mountain lions back home to West Virginia.
On March 2nd, 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the eastern cougar to be extinct. Mountain lions used to roam the entire country, coast to coast, and the eastern cougar subspecies (Puma concolor couguar) occupied the northeast region. By the 1850s, hunting pressure had made mountain lions rare in the eastern two thirds of the continent. Mountain lions were functionally extinct in the Midwest by 1860, the mid-Atlantic states by 1882, in the south coastal states by 1886, in central Appalachia by 1900, and in New England by 1906.
In 1973, Congress passes the Endangered Species Act, designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a 'consequence of economic growth and development untendered by adequate concern and conservation.' Eastern cougars were among the first species listed as a federally endangered subspecies under the Act.
Though cougars have been functionally extinct for over a century, the USFWS continues to receive reports of sightings. They have not been able to confirm any of these cats were the eastern cougar subspecies, rather they believe these individuals have been released pets or lions dispersing from the western population.
With the appropriate protections to the species and their habitat, perhaps we could recover our lost mountain lions, and they could once again wander the land in which they formerly lived.