Mountain lions (Puma concolor), more commonly referred to as cougars in Wisconsin, are native to the state. They once roamed throughout the United States but, due to bounties and heavy persecution, they were eliminated from a significant portion of their historic range. In 1908, hunters killed Wisconsin's last lion.
Due to their elusive nature, mountain lions narrowly escaped extinction in North America by seeking refuge in the remote wilderness of the American west. In time, bounties were lifted and populations slowly began to recover. Mountain lions eventually reclaimed portions of their historic range where prey and suitable habitat remained.
Gradually, lions once again began working their way back east. In the early 2000's, confirmed reports of dispersing mountain lions were on the rise in Wisconsin. This increase prompted the WDNR to draft a response plan for sightings or potential conflicts.
The WDNR will be accepting public comment now through November 6, 2018 on their draft "Cougar Response Guidelines."
As with most drafts, there is room for improvement. WDNR officials need to set a tone of tolerance that allows for the eventual recolonization of these native predators. By exercising foresight, they can work ahead to help Wisconsinites to prepare for a life with these enigmatic creatures.
First and foremost, remember to express your appreciation to the WDNR for providing the public with a chance to comment on their draft Guidelines. This is a wonderful opportunity to provide feedback, along with some additional considerations.
The current draft states that "Any cougar confirmed in the depredation of pets or livestock should be euthanized." Instead of immediately killing the lion, implementing a "three-tier" policy would be better suited for mountain lion recovery in the state. In the event of a depredation, an effective "three-tier" policy would operate allowing the following guidelines:
A Response Level 2 is issued when "...a cougar is not exhibiting aggressive or predatory behavior, but remains in a location that poses a potential threat to human safety." Currently, the WDNR's Guidelines state that the two actions available are killing the lion, or relocating it. The Guidelines should include hazing as an option when working to resolve a Response Level 2 rather than allowing for the killing of the animal.
Knowledge is power:
It is important to note that any incident that may occur with a mountain lion will likely be isolated. This is due to the transient nature of mountain lions. Most lions that arrive in Wisconsin will be dispersing males in search of a territory or mate. They will likely pass through an area without settling down. Females, on the other hand, may end up sticking around if there is suitable prey and habitat. Mountain lions prefer deer and will generally avoid livestock when their natural prey are readily available.
Over the long-term, it would behoove wildlife officials to establish a mountain lion education program to help teach the public about the realities of living alongside mountain lions. This includes employing methods that properly protect domestic animals from predators, as well as discussing the actual versus perceived risks of living with mountain lions. You can help by learning how to stay safe in mountain lion country.
There's such a thing as too much information:
Wildlife agencies in states like Missouri have made the decision not to release location information regarding mountain lion activity to protect dispersing individuals. The WDNR may want to consider following by this example in hopes that one day mountain lions may re-establish in Wisconsin. Should a confirmed sighting, encounter, or depredation occur, the WDNR could then use the opportunity, instead, to raise awareness about living safely with lions.
Unfortunately, releasing the known location of a mountain lion presents the public with the opportunity to seek out and destroy the animal. This effectively undermines the agency's authority, while making it more difficult to manage the species.
Lastly, the WDNR should encourage the public to report poaching or any other suspicious activity. Although mountain lions are protected in Wisconsin, "shoot, shovel, and shut up" still occurs and must be prevented.
This is a pivotal moment for the future of Wisconsin's mountain lions. Act TODAY!
You must submit your comments via email to Scott Walter, WDNR's large carnivore specialist BEFORE November 6, 2018. Do not delay - Submit today! You can be a part of deciding the future of mountain lions in Wisconsin.
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The Mountain Lion Foundation, founded in 1986, is a national nonprofit organization protecting mountain lions and their habitat.
We believe that mountain lions are in peril.
Our nation is on the verge of destroying this apex species upon which whole ecosystems depend. Hunting mountain lions is morally unjustified, and killing lions to prevent conflicts is ineffective and dangerous.
There is a critical need to know more about the biology, behavior, and ecology of mountain lions, and governments should base decisions upon truthful science, valid data, and the highest common good. Conserving critical lion habitat is essential.