Iowa Rep. Molly Donahue has introduced HF 2118, which will prohibit trophy hunting, trapping, and hounding of mountain lions, black bears, and gray wolves in Iowa. This is an important step in addressing the needs of Iowa’s ecosystems.
Large mammalian carnivores and their prey coevolved, yet the landscape in Iowa has been without large carnivores for many years. Large carnivores maintain healthy prey populations by removing sick members. They also promote biodiversity in multiple ways. White-tailed deer have been shown to overgraze on native plants first, allowing for the spread of invasive species and loss of plant diversity. Large carnivores regulate prey population numbers, reducing overgrazing, which promotes plant diversity. Additionally, carrion from large carnivores has been shown to support scavenging animals.
The presence of large carnivores can help stabilize waterways, by preventing overgrazing from herds. More vegetation prevents excess erosion and can create a buffer zone when water levels rise, creating more stable waterways. This effect was notably observed after the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park.
Without large carnivores the white-tailed deer in Iowa relies solely on hunters and traffic accidents to manage the population. While deer hunting generates revenue and provides recreational opportunities, it does not effectively manage the population. Damages to crops, gardens, and lawns are a major complaint amongst Iowans. Furthermore, the high number of vehicle collisions with deer in Iowa result in needless financial losses, injuries and death.
On February 17th, 2022, the Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee voted to move HB 1296 to the 41st day with (7 yeas and 4 nays). The South Dakota Legislature meets for 40 days this session, so by moving a bill to the fictitious 41st day, it is essentially dead without an official “no.” The bill was broadly opposed by supporters of SDGFP, mountain lion hunters, and conservation advocates in South Dakota.
HB 1296, if passed by the South Dakota Legislature, would amend § 41-6-2
9.2 to state: “Any person, licensed or unlicensed, may kill a mountain lion if the mountain lion is outside of the Black Hills Forest Fire Protection District.”
In addition to the Black Hills Fire Protection District harvest limit of 60 mountain lions or 40 female mountain lions, this bill will allow for the unlimited killing of any mountain lion found outside of the Black Hill Forest Fire Protection District.
HB 1296 was introduced in the South Dakota House of Representatives on February 1st, 2022 and referred to the House Agricultural and Natural Resources committee.
Can we count on you to reach out to the representatives of the South Dakota House Agricultural and Natural Resources committee, calling on them to oppose this bill? Together we have an opportunity to stop this bill, and prevent the unnecessary killing of mountain lions in South Dakota.
Mountain lions are essential parts of the ecosystems they are a part of. Mountain lion help herds stay healthier by removing sick members. They can also increase biodiversity through by limiting overgrazing, and providing food sources to many other species. The presence of large carnivores can even stabilize waterways, by reducing overgrazing that can trigger excessive erosion. The Black Hills mountain lions are one of the eastern-most sources of dispersing mountain lions.
Public opinion surveys conducted by SDGFP, indicated a diverse range of perspectives regarding mountain lions and deer. In a survey regarding wildlife, 77% of respondents believed that as much wildlife should be conserved as possible in South Dakota. In a survey regarding mountain lion hunting, many respondents believed mountain lion populations shouldn’t decrease and advocated for coexistence, and others believed that mountain lions would help manage conflict with deer populations. Some respondents feared mountain lions conflict with humans and livestock, and wanted their population numbers to decrease. Studies have indicated that the lethal removal of mountain lions has minimal effect on reducing conflict in humans, and can even increase conflict. The most effective way to prevent conflict between people and mountain lions is through education and non-lethal deterrents. Allowing for any mountain lion to be killed outside of the Black Hills does not meet the safety concerns of the public in South Dakota, and works in direct conflict with the public’s value of wildlife in South Dakota.
Please submit comments to the South Dakota House of Agriculture and Natural Resources, calling on them to oppose HB 1296. Feel free to use our action alert form to easily submit your comments to your South Dakota legislators
Thank you for taking action to oppose this legislation to expand the killing of mountain lions in South Dakota.
Rewilding the Midwest: An interview with Valerie Vierk, author of Mountain Lions in Nebraska—The Golden Ghosts Return
The historic range of the America’s mountain lion spanned from coast to coast of what is now the United States. After the combined forces of a devastated deer population and excessive hunting of lions the population dwindled to nothing in the Midwest and Eastern regions of the US, with a small Florida population taking refuge in the swamps. With the protection of mountain lions in states like California and the regulation of hunting in western states where they are categorized as a big game animal, the mountain lion is recovering.
Midwestern Nebraska shares a border with western states supporting established mountain lion populations. Dispersing lions have been making their way into Nebraska for years. Unlike other recovered animals like the gray wolf, the mountain lion is returning to its historic range unaided yet is unlikely to establish stable populations without protection. Nebraska has made rewilding efforts before like the reintroduction of the river otter in 2017. This reintroduction was a great success and now river otters have stable populations within the state. By urging the Nebraska Game and Parks to offer protection for recovering mountain lion, as done before with otters, we may see a wilder Nebraska once again.
Firstly, Let’s talk about the title. Mountain Lions in Nebraska–The Golden Ghosts Return. Tell me about that. Where did they go? How did we wipe this iconic cat from that area?
According to the literature, the Golden Ghosts were extirpated from Nebraska by about 1900. In my research, I did discover a few scattered alleged sightings after that, but they were mostly gone. According to the late Dr. John Laundré, who passed in March 2021, cougars were never that plentiful in Nebraska. (See his book Phantoms of the Prairie–The Return of Cougars to the Midwest (2012). The reason he gave was because the cats didn’t venture too far out on the prairie because of wolves. Although a cougar could dispatch a wolf with one blow from his powerful front paw, a pack of wolves was more than any wise cougar cared to deal with out on the treeless prairie. Thus, Laundré wrote that the cougars stayed close to the rivers and streams to hunt deer. He called them “River Cats.” He stated that an exception to this was the Pine Ridge in northwestern Nebraska that had good hunting cover for the cougars. (It still does because the land is too rough to be farmed.)
Yes, Nebraska has lots of waterways, (see map in the book that lists 80,000 miles of waterways), but there were still a lot of open spaces (prairies) where cougars probably were not real comfortable traversing. In historic times, there were more trees radiating out from the rivers. Now with the land being altered by farming, the border of trees along the rivers is much thinner.
Nebraska does have quite varied geography, with the eastern third being much more treed, and more rainfall. Central has less trees and less rainfall, and western even less trees and rainfall. Also, these three regions are also reflected in the length of the grasses. Now, only a tiny portion of the state is native grassland.
Although cougars were hunted some in the early days because people feared them, both for themselves and for predation on livestock, I believe the primary reason for them disappearing from Nebraska was that the deer population was nearly wiped out by 1900. Nebraska is home to two species of native deer – white tailed and mule, with the former being much more common. In the early years before 1900, there were little hunting protections for deer, and thus they were nearly wiped out. It’s hard to believe, because they were so numerous. I originally had a chapter in the book devoted to the deer, but I had to cut it as the book was getting too big. These big cats need big game to survive because a bunny wouldn’t go far with them, especially a mother with hungry kittens. As the deer went, so did the cougars.
(I want to add that I contacted John Laundré shortly after I read his book. It was very helpful to me since he focused on the cougars returning to the Midwest, and the book had sections on all those states, including Nebraska. He wrote back and sent several of his essays dealing with hunting etc. When my book was finished, I tracked him down at his last know place of employment, and sent a letter. I thought it strange he didn’t respond, and then three months later I learned he had died. I was very saddened. He did so much research on cougars for many years.)
Let’s talk about the early establishment of bounties, what that entitled and how that contributed to eradicating the Nebraska lion?
I write about these bounties in my book also. The bounty system started in the original colonies on the east coast, and spread west as the country was settled. (The Mountain Lion Foundation has a timeline on their website that was very helpful.) Unfortunately, a lot of Nebraska residents had the prevalent mindset against predators, and this fed the bounty system. We now know that predators are necessary for a healthy ecosystem, but they didn’t know that back then. In my research I found information on bounties in Nebraska in an 1881 statute and later. Apparently, the bounty wasn’t statewide, but only in counties that voted for it. I wasn’t able to determine from my limited research on this subject what counties participated.
It sounded like a grisly procedure whereby the hunter/trapper would present the ears to the county clerk. Sometimes there was “double-dipping” whereby the hunter/trapper would present the “scalp” in one country and then go to another to collect again. One website stated that because of the fraud, some places started defacing the scalp so it couldn’t be used again to collect. I suppose some agencies started collecting the scalps and then disposing of them so they couldn’t be used again.
This Nebraska 1881 statute listed mountain lion scalps as worth $3.00. I wasn’t able to find any records on how many were collected in various years, although possibly if I had conducted more extensive research, I might have found some figures. Money is a good incentive, however, and thus some people would engage in bounty hunting. Whatever the number of mountain lions killed for bounties, it all chipped away at the population, especially if they were females. There didn’t seem to be any mercy shown for even kittens. They were all just considered vermin.
In the 1960s, the bounties started being dropped in the western states, and replaced with legal hunting seasons. While it doesn’t seem like much of an improvement, it was a little better for the lions because at least part of the year the season was closed.
How triumphant has the return of the Puma been and how have they been received?
That’s a mixed bag. For people who are fascinated with cougars, like me, it is exciting. For livestock producers, most of them didn’t welcome the return. I think a lot of the biologists are excited by the return, but at the same time, trying to “manage” the big cats is a headache because it is a controversial subject. A Nebraska biologist summed it up very well when he said something to the effect that some people want all cougars killed and some don’t want any killed.
What is impressive to me is that the “comeback” cats did it all on their own. There were no expensive government-financed reintroductions like with the wolves in Yellowstone Park in the mid-1990s. The cougars did it on their own, in spite of what some people believe, that the state wildlife agencies “stocked them.” The land and the habitat have in most cases, been seriously changed since the ancestors of our modern-day cougars roamed. Most of the prairie has been plowed up for row crops, and of course, there are many more people on the landscape, and more houses. Cougars have a tough go of it to navigate all of this. Thus, I admire that they have recolonized some of their old haunts. They didn’t announce their coming; they just came, and caught us napping.
The book title is deceiving; it says Nebraska but it also evolved into a study of several neighboring states. How did that happen and what did you discover?
Originally, I planned for the book to be mostly about cougars in Nebraska, but the more I researched and learned how the populations are connected, I decided it would be kind of silly not to write about what was happening in Nebraska’s neighboring states. When I started the book, I honestly had never thought about or knew that cougars had been hunted in the western states for 50 years or more. Nebraska’s cougar populations aren’t just a little island; new cougars and constantly moving in from other states, and some are moving out.
I actually researched and wrote chapters on North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan, but had to cut those chapters because the book was getting too long. I am just so interested in cougars and with the Internet, it is so easy to research them, that I went off on tangents and then had to rein myself back in and just write about Nebraska’s neighboring states, with the exception of California.
So, readers are getting an extra bonus with the chapters on the neighboring states even though the title may initially lead them to think the book is all about Nebraska cougars.
You discuss, in depth, the impact of trophy hunting and even devoted an entire chapter to California’s trophy hunting ban. Let’s talk about the catastrophic impact of hunting, not just on the puma species, but on all the native wildlife impacted by their loss.
I think a lot of humans don’t realize (or want to realize) that most, if not all animals, have a social organization. We know ants and bees have a well-organized social system, so why wouldn’t an animal of a higher class have one? I call this not wanting to believe this “human arrogance.”
In the 1960s, Dr. Maurice Hornocker and Wilbur Wiles and Wiles’ two hounds trapped and studied cougars in the wilds of Idaho. It was ground-breaking research, and what they learned from this was that cougars have their home ranges. A large male patrols his “kingdom” which usually includes four to five females and their kittens. He keeps (or tries) to keep out other males who may want to take over this kingdom. This helps protect the females and especially the kittens from intruding males.
Later, researchers learned that it is an ordered society which can easily be disrupted by human hunting. If a reigning male is killed off, several new ones will move in and this can cause danger and chaos in the kingdom.
My biggest grievance against hunting cougars is that if the females are killed, they often have dependent kittens that will be orphaned. A kitten under a year doesn’t have much of a chance of survival because they don’t know how to hunt very well. (Their canine teeth aren’t even fully erupted until they are about 16 months old.) Sure, by the time they are four months old they probably can run down a bunny or a squirrel, but they need a lot of meat for their growing bodies. As for them taking other smaller prey, porcupines are dangerous unless they can be flipped on their bellies to avoid the quills. Raccoons also are pretty formidable to an inexperienced kitten.
Starvation is the leading cause of death of orphaned kittens. I read an article by a researcher who followed an orphaned kitten that was collared. It took the kitten 50 days to starve to death. That’s a long, painful death. The researcher felt very bad about watching this tragedy, but he was charged with studying the natural life of the cats and did not intervene.
I did my own calculations on how many kittens are orphaned each year due to hunting. I did conservative calculations and then the more standard and came up with about 1,600. A few weeks later I ran across a number the Mountain Lion Foundation had stated: about 1,500 per year. However, one orphaned kitten due to hunting is too many for me.
Cougars are one of the few (or maybe the only species) that humans hunt when they have dependent young. The rule of thumb is that females are pregnant or have “kittens on the ground” about 75% of time. That doesn’t leave much leeway for killing a female that is “safe”.
We hunt deer in Nebraska and most other states, but the seasons usually start in November when the fawns are five to six months old, and can survive if their mother is killed by a hunter. Also, the fawns don’t have to hone their hunting skills. They merely have to reach up or down to graze or browse.
As for the trapping seasons, the same is true. These seasons start in November or December in most states, and by then the young of the spring are old enough to survive on their own. Even bobcat kittens usually are old enough by December 1, when the trapping season starts in Nebraska. That is not to say I am in favor of trapping.
Nature is all connected. I like to say that “Mother Nature” is smarter than man. For instance, deer need their predators to keep them from overpopulating their areas. But with the serious reduction in predators, deer populations started getting out of control in the early 1940s or so. Now days, we have hunting seasons to thin them out so they don’t starve to death or overgraze their areas. John Laundré wrote about the eastern forests groaning under the assault of the armies of deer. Native wild flowers were devoured, and then noxious weeds took over the forest floor. Shrubs and small trees were damaged or killed by the voracious deer. Don’t get me wrong– I love deer and greatly enjoy watching them in my area. I’ve written essays about my wonderful experiences observing them. But we aren’t doing them any favor by letting them get so numerous so that they may starve to death in severe winters.
What is the current status of the Nebraska cougar? What does the future look like for them? Are we in danger of losing the golden ghost again?
Since cougars are legally protected now, I don’t think they will ever be extirpated from Nebraska again. However, I believe there is considerable illegal hunting of them, or poaching. To some people, cougars are “shoot on sight” animals and they don’t really care that the legal hunting season is closed. Some people respect the law; some don’t.
But the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC) understands they have to manage them for hunters and nonhunters alike. The “animal people” of the state have made their voices heard via letters to the editors of various newspapers, as well as letters to the NGPC in defense of cougars. To a lot of people, predators are no longer considered undesirable.
The last scat survey conducted by the NGPC stated that the cougar population had decreased in the Pine Ridge. I think it was down about 20 animals. What caused that? Illegal hunting? Cougars moving on? I’m not sure, but I suspect human interference had quite a bit to do with it.
As for the cougar population in the rest of the state, surveys haven’t been done. It is labor intensive work and expensive. Nebraska has 93 counties and cougars have been spotted in about 2/3 of the counties. How many exist in the state? I’ve never heard an estimate. It’s hard to count something you can’t see, and an animal that roams around a lot. One day he/she may be in Nebraska, and the next day cross the Kansas line. I’ve penciled out some of my own statewide estimates, but I don’t feel comfortable giving those as they would only be speculation.
It took seven years to write this book. What kind of background research did you have? Was it your deep passion for wildlife that committed you to such an enduring task?
I’ve been fascinated with cougars since childhood, but at the beginning of this project I didn’t know a lot about them. So, I did massive amounts of research for the book and greatly enjoyed it. (That’s partially why it took seven years to write the book. I kept reading and researching.) I have many plastic totes sitting in my basement and will keep this research for several years. With the Internet, it is so easy find information. The on-line newspapers provided lots of information. Also, I purchased about 20 “cougar books” during my research. Most are fairly current, but I also like to read the older books just to see what the author had to say about cougars 30 or 40 years ago. I love old books and like to compare what was “common knowledge” back then to what may now be proven not accurate at all.
Trail cameras have opened up the secret lives of cougars. Researchers used to think females took great pains to keep their kittens away from the males, even a male she knew. Now cameras have shown adult males sharing kills with females with kittens. We have also learned that cougars are much more altruistic to each other than we ever dreamed. Researchers have documented a few cases of females adopting orphaned kittens.
Yes, I have always loved nature/wildlife, and thus it was natural that I would want to write a book about cougars. I read a lot of nature books for kids when I was a kid, but usually the predators were portrayed as bad. Luckily, that mindset has changed quite a bit.
Have you yourself even seen a lion in the wild?
No, and I sure would like to! But hopefully not when I am walking along the river on a nature hike by myself. There have been several sightings of cougars very close to where I live though. By close I mean within a mile of my house right along the South Loup River.
Just this summer (2021) three of our neighbors called my husband with reports of sightings. The first one was on August 6 when two neighbors saw the cat independently about ½ miles from my husband’s farm. (We got married in 2017 so I kept my house right by the river. I split my time between both places.) The neighbors saw the cat early morning, about 6:30. It is daylight by that time in my area. The cat ran in front of the pickup of one guy out checking pivots. The other guy saw the cat as he trotted just out of the boundaries of his yard. The man was inside, but got a good, long look and both were certain it was a cougar. (I am too.)
Then on September 3, another neighbor called my husband at 9:30 p.m. with the report that a cougar had run right in front of his pickup on a country road about two miles from our place. He too was certain it was a cougar because he was in the headlights and the long tail was visible.
I jumped in my car and drove up to the site, as the cat was heading toward an abandoned farm site that had lots of trees but no buildings anymore. We thought it would be a good place for him to hole up. I thought maybe I’d get lucky and see the cat recrossing the road, but no luck. I didn’t get out of my car to go look!
There have been two other sightings in recent years within a mile of my place by the river. I write about them in the book. I waited 50 years to finally seeing a whooping crane in the wild. That had always been my dream and it came true four years ago. My new dream is to see a cougar in the wild but I don’t have 50 years to wait!
How do Nebraskans seem to feel about mountain lions in the state?
I’d say a lot of people are concerned about their welfare. The NGPC has commented that people are very interested in cougars. I don’t think anyone has ever done a survey, but with most of our human population in the eastern part of the state, if we were to do a ballot initiative to stop hunting, I think it would pass. Generally, I think people who don’t have livestock feel more tolerate than those who raise livestock. However, I think it’s highly unlikely that this issue would ever come to a ballot initiative like in California in 1990.
In my immediate area, I haven’t experienced too much hostility for the big cats, although one man (a cattle producer) told me he would shoot a cougar and not report it. For years I was in the habit of asking people if they’d ever seen a cougar. Amazingly, a lot knew someone who had even if they hadn’t. The most common response I heard was “They’re out there.” I’ve only talked to one man who thought a cougar got one of his calves in my area. Another man saw one when he was rounding up his cattle and when I asked him how he felt about a cougar close to his cattle. He said something to the effect that with all the deer and turkeys around, he wasn’t too worried about a cougar preying on his calves.
However, some people keep quiet about their true feelings about cougars, so it can be hard to judge opinions. I’d say generally that people in the western part of the state have less tolerance for cougars since that is where the biggest populations of cougars roam and they fear for the safety of their children and their livestock. Where I live in south-central Nebraska, I have never heard of a confirmed case of a cougar killing a calf. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission holds to a high standard on these reports of livestock killed. They generally will come out and inspect the carcass. Often, they don’t agree with the owner of the animal that thinks a cougar killed the calf or goat or sheep.
If people want to get involved in conservation of mountain lions in Nebraska, do you have any advice for them?
I believe in respectful letters to the NGPC and letters to the editor of various newspapers and I have done both many times. Also, testifying at the meetings when the NGPC is debating whether or not to hold a new mountain lion hunting season. So far, the nine commissioners have all voted as a block for the seasons. The commissioners represent hunting, fishing, trapping and livestock interests. (Last year the governor appointed a woman as a commissioner. I believe she was the first ever.) As for “cat ladies” like myself being appointed, that is probably a distant dream. Still, it is good to keep up the lobbying in favor of preserving our big cats.
There was a Facebook account for mountain lion advocates in the Omaha area a couple of years ago. I don’t if it is still active. There is quite a network of people in various states who advocate for cougars and I have recently gotten connected with a few of them, including a couple of women in the East. There is power in numbers.
What inspired you to write this book?
When I started the book in February 2014, Nebraska was one month into its first legal mountain lion hunting season ever held. There was a lot of hoopla about it in the newspapers, complete with a photo of a young lion lying on a limb looking down at the hunter who was preparing to shoot him out of the tree from close range. Having dogs chase and tree the lion and then the hunter strolling up or riding up on his 4-wheeler is not sport to me.
That photo upset and angered me and was the catalyst for starting the book to try to help the lions. I wanted to try to change some minds in favor of helping the lions that are only trying to survive in their heavily fragmented world because of human encroachment.
What do you find most interesting about mountain lions?
I’m fascinated by all cats because of their grace, agility, and athleticism. When I visited the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado, I saw a huge tiger leap up onto a wooden perch so gracefully, just like my house cats do. I am impressed that cougars are so fast for a couple hundred yards, although they can’t maintain that pace must longer.
Mountain lions are fascinating because they are so stealthy. I think that scares people sometimes, but it is also alluring that they can be around and humans don’t even know it until they happen to catch a fleeting glimpse or shock–find a cougar image on their trail camera when they were expecting a deer.
I am also very sympathetic to the “single mothers” that have to leave their young kittens to go hunt for themselves when the kittens are still nursing. The African lionesses have a support system as they live in prides. Not so with the cougar mothers. Then when the kittens are a little older, and are traveling with their mother, it is still a risky time if the little family encounters a wolf pack or other predators. Kittens can’t climb trees until they are about four months old.
What is one thing you wish people would understand about mountain lions?
That they are not killer cats that are after humans. Yes, there have been about 26 human deaths in the last 110 years in North America, and no one wants to see a human killed, but it is so rare that the cats hardly deserve to be labeled a big threat to humans. If a lion comes into your house, it is in your domain, but when humans recreate in lion country, we are in their homes. With more people recreating and more lions since the bounties were dropped, there are bound to be more encounters. Humans can modify their behavior to keep themselves safer in lion country—but lions can’t undo eons of evolution. They are what they are. It is extremely rare for them to see humans as prey.
Are you seeing any efforts made in Nebraska in terms of people trying to coexist with these wild cats?
I think the state newspapers and the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission have done a pretty good job of trying to educate people about the cats. They have repeatedly published articles on the things to do if you encounter a lion. There seems to be considerable empathy for the cats that have turned up in towns and then been destroyed. My book documents cases of people expressly stating they don’t want a lion harmed that is on their property outside of town. It’s kind of difficult to gauge public opinion without doing surveys, and even they can be flawed, but I’d say the majority of Nebraskans are fairly tolerant of the big cats moving back in.
As with most subjects, education helps.
Also, in the Mountain Lion Response Plan written by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, it states that mountain lions are a native species and an integral part of our wildlife or something to that effect. Yes, Nebraska has a “no tolerance” position on cougars coming into town, but at least if they are out of town and not bothering any one, they are to be left alone. I hope someday the “no tolerance” position can be amended.
What is one of your favorite names for the mountain lion?
I’ve always liked cougar since I was in high school. It’s kind of a family joke that my maternal grandfather called them “crugers”. I really love Klandagi the Cherokee name for the cats. It means “Lord of the Forest.”
What are your thoughts on mountain lions dispersing eastwards? Do you see these cats reclaiming parts of their historic range? What do you think it would take to improve social tolerance of mountain lions?
I think the cats will keep moving eastward, but it will be a journey fraught with obstacles, many deadly. They’ve been spotted in Illinois and I think Ohio. Also, some people think they are already on the East coast. Tennessee documented a female cougar that they thought had come from South Dakota! And let’s not forget the “Connecticut Lion” as I call him, who made his way from South Dakota to Ct. His remarkable travel was documented in Will Stolzenburg’s book Heart of a Lion. I so admire that young lion and his biographer who told his story. I think that boys’ school where he was spotted should erect a small monument in his honor.
The Cougar Rewilding Foundation, formerly called the Eastern Cougar Foundation, tracks alleged sightings and lobbies for the return of cougars to the East. Viewing their website is interesting. It’s fun to speculate–are wild cougars there or not? Most wildlife officials believe that there may be some formerly captive cougars roaming the East, but not wild ones.
It’s very interesting to access the website of the Cougar Fund to see the confirmed sightings. I mostly concentrated on cougars in the Midwest and the West for my book, but I would love to research more on the eastward sightings. Right now, I just don’t have time as I have two other books that are written and I want to get published. These are novels, with no cougars in them–yet, although I may add one in a slight revision of the novel that is partially set in Nebraska in the late 1880s.
I think for the cats to reclaim their former ranges east of the Mississippi mostly depends on human tolerance. The East has huge tracts of national forests where hopefully the cats could live without being hunted or molested by humans too much. Again, educating people about the cats will be very important. It’s a fine line to education people about them without scaring them. For instance, cougars can be attracted to small children, and parents need to know this when they are out hiking with young children.
I’ve often thought of parks hiring “trail walkers” i.e., big college guys with phones who could easily be called if a person sees a lion and is afraid. Or maybe the guys could ride bikes to get them to an emergency situation faster. Simple things like that might prevent a possible tragedy for humans and lion alike.
I think in 20 years we could have a small wild cougar population in the eastern forests. Some people think a few are there now. But the cougars aren’t talking . . .
On September 14, MLF volunteer Mike Poremba, addressed the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission, highlighting scientific concerns MLF has raised about the state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife estimation of cougar populations, and the ways that hunting and other killings by humans affect the state’s population. Poremba is one of many volunteers who join their voices together to protect America’s lion. To join that effort, sign up and our staff will reach out with opportunities and suggestions.
Testimony of Mike Poremba:
Good morning to Chairwoman Wahl, Director Melcher, and Members of the Commission:
My name is Mike Poremba, from Eagle Point, Oregon, and I am speaking as an outdoorsman, wildlife advocate, behavioral dog trainer, and as a field volunteer on behalf of the Mountain Lion Foundation.
First I’d like to thank ODFW for allowing us the opportunity to convey our suggestions and concerns regarding the Big Game rules for the upcoming 2022 season, including detailed comments which we sent separately. As the Commission reviews the Big Game rules for 2022, we ask that you ensure that the cougar hunt plan is based on the best available data and on the most scientifically-grounded wildlife management practices. I love our wild predators like mountain lions & wolves, but I also love a good steak and eggs breakfast before pulling on wool socks on a chilly Oregon morning, so believe me when I say my hope is to protect both our wildlife, our domestic-life, and our diverse way of life.
The proposed mortality quota for mountain lions is based on methods that tend to overestimate the populations here in Oregon. If quotas are set based on excessive population estimates, those quotas will in fact be too high, and recreational hunting could harm our local populations. Maintaining healthy populations of cougars is crucial for the wellbeing of Oregon’s wild lands, and for ensuring the stability and health of our deer, elk, and other wild animal populations.
Mountain lions typically do not require management to control populations, as their social structure, territoriality, and prey populations keep their densities naturally low. In surveys throughout the western US, population densities are typically around 1.7 adults per 100 square kilometers. The population estimates underlying these hunt quotas would imply that cougars in Oregon have densities three times higher than in comparable forests just across our state’s borders.
The proposed quotas allow the removal of a very large proportion of that estimated population. The proposed quotas allow the killing of more than one quarter of the estimated adult Cougar population, twice the amount that would be recommended by evidence-based management guidelines regarding the ability of cougars to reproduce and replace losses. Keeping the quotas so far above actual harvest numbers effectively leaves Oregon without any limits. At a time when wildfire and other human-increased effects of climate change are adding new stresses, on top of the loss of connectivity and habitat, it is crucial that ODF&W set less aggressive and science-based limits.
Killing established adult mountain lions could actually make livestock depredation or other conflicts with humans far more likely and even common. Most such conflicts are caused by younger animals as they disperse and seek territories, and this is where my experience as a professional dog trainer, teaching behavioral modification, gives me a unique viewpoint. Whether we’re talking about a family pet, a working dog like a lion hound, the cats they so excitedly pursue, or even our own kids, teaching is teaching, and the youngest among them tend to take the biggest risks and therefore make the most mistakes.
To put it simply, they don’t know anything yet, and so they’re trying to find out what works.
Killing doesn’t teach anything, and it does not decrease the density of cougars on the landscape, but can increase the breeding rate & numbers, replacing conflict-averse cougars who are old enough & tested enough to know better, with younger ones that are more willing to venture close to humans- to see what works. As a result, setting too high quotas or relying primarily on lethal responses to conflict can disrupt existing territories and make conflicts between our residents and Mountain Lions far more likely.
Thank you again for giving me a chance to speak to you on this important matter.
We are thankful for the quick action by the mother of a young boy who successfully ended an attack by a young mountain lion on August 26, 2021 in Calabasas, California. We at the Mountain Lion Foundation are keeping them in our thoughts and hope that he has a full and speedy recovery.
The mountain lions involved have been handled appropriately by CDFW officers and staff. We support the state’s work to ensure any animal that displays aggression toward people is dealt with appropriately and as humanely as possible.
In California and other states throughout the West, we live alongside wildlife like mountain lions, coyotes, bears and other animals. We believe that people and wildlife alike can thrive and share the landscape. It is our hope that these types of traumatic encounters happen as infrequently as possible.
We will continue working with other groups and state and local communities to communicate safe practices and public safety messaging that minimize dangerous encounters and allows people and wildlife to peacefully coexist in California and other states. Click here for information about safety in lion country. https://mountainlion.org/stay-safe/
Sheriff who previously flouted mask rules and gun laws is now violating state wildlife laws
August 13, 2021, Kennewick, WA — The Klickitat County Sheriff’s rampage against wildlife violates state law and must immediately be stopped by courts, according to new filings in a Washington State court. The filing is the latest in the Mountain Lion Foundation’s lawsuit against Sheriff Bob Songer, calls for an immediate order halting the illegal hunts and his illegal deputization of a posse to assist in the culling. Just this year, Songer has pursued several cougars, illegally using packs of hounds to chase mountain lions that posed no threat to public safety.
“Sheriff Songer’s conduct endangers the people of Klickitat County, devastates wildlife, and contradicts everything science and experience teaches us about how to protect livestock and communities,” explains Debra Chase, CEO of the Mountain Lion Foundation. “Sheriffs are supposed to follow the law, not undercut the will of Washington voters and legislators, and the laws established to protect wildlife from being cruelly and capriciously chased by dogs. It’s a shame he wouldn’t abide by the law, or meet us and other concerned citizens to find a better solution, and especially bad that we need the courts to compel him to stop breaking the laws he swore to uphold.”
The Mountain Lion Foundation’s petition to the Benton County Superior Court asks for a Peremptory Writ of Prohibition, an order blocking further implementation of Songer’s so-called Dangerous Wildlife Policy and Procedures. In 1996, 63% of Washington voters approved Initiative 655, which prohibits the use of hound packs to hunt cougars, with very limited exceptions that do not apply to Sheriff Songer.
Chase explains: “Sheriff Songer’s policy allows him and people he claims to have deputized — without any background checks or training — to chase cougars simply seen walking through agricultural areas, or feeding on deer they caught in the wild. Rather than killing lions just for being themselves, Songer should work with state wildlife agencies, his own citizens, and groups like ours to develop safe paths to coexistence in Klickitat County.”
In a 2010 survey by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Washingtonians statewide overwhelmingly agreed “it is the responsibility of people to help prevent cougar conflicts when living in or near cougar habitat.” Only 10% agreed with the statement “Cougars spotted in or near towns should be killed.” In the last 100 years, cougars in Washington have only killed two people (in 1924 and 2018). There has never been a fatal attack in Klickitat County.
Founded in 1986, the Mountain Lion Foundation is a national nonprofit organization with a mission to ensure that America’s lion survives and flourishes in the wild. The Foundation’s website is http://mountainlion.org.
Adam P. Karp, JD, MS is a regional animal law litigator residing in Bellingham, Washington with licenses in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. He has practiced animal law for 23 years. His website is http://animal-lawyer.com.
The continued expansion of American civilization online has mountain lions–cougars, pumas, panthers, depending on your location in the country–facing a new-challenge of pseudo reality. Just as the habitat of mountain lions has been indelibly altered in the name of progress, so too is their very reputation been reformed via misinformation and misunderstanding on social media.
The misinformation does not need to be intentional to provide the public with an inaccurate view and understanding of a species like the mountain lion. A recent post by the Guadalupe Mountains National Park on their Facebook page shows a mountain lion wearing some sort of narrow white collar caught on a trail cam. The Park, or more accurately, whomever runs their social media pages, provided commentary describing the sighting as an exciting event, because their Park has not collared mountain lions since the 1980s, which means that this collared cat has travelled from another vicinity, showing their wide range.
But the date on the trail camera image is from 2020, and the narrow, lumpy white collar visible on the cat is unlike any known tracking device, the straps of which are wide, designed to evenly spread the weight of the electronic components. The exact date the image was captured is not clear. Where the mountain lion shown came from cannot be known, and what its collar, or the feature that looks like a collar, represents, also cannot be known. But what is very sure, is that this cat is not an animal wearing a known or common type of tracking collar.
Every little such bit of misinformation adds up, building in the public’s mind the idea that mountain lions are thriving and free ranging without conflict or issue. But as evidenced by recent livestock losses in the Descanso area of San Diego County there remains a palpable level of friction between indigenous mountain lions, and human residents. The Mountain Lion Foundation knows that humans and wildlife can coexist but for that to happen there needs to be frequent and relevant dialogue between conservation entities like the Mountain Lion Foundation, and the public.
Californians love their state and its vast open spaces. They also love their wildlife, including mountain lions. With the ongoing drought, climate change, wildfires, and continual expansion of people, mountain lions are more in need of understanding and aid from their human counterparts than ever before. We must be proactive in our thinking and actions in regard to our carnivore neighbors. Californians share an amazing landscape with thousands of native species, and mountain lions are an integral part of that ecosystem. In order to protect that biodiversity, and preserve it, residents need to pull back from the viewpoint of ‘mountain lions intruding into human areas’ and understand that the inverse is true, we are rapidly moving into the lions habitat. A shared space is just that, shared. It’s a give and take.
At the local level, small changes and basic precautions can go a great way to help ensure that both humans and mountain lions are able to live peacefully in close proximity. In the recent Descanso area incident, there were losses of livestock, but moving forward it’s possible to minimize such potential losses. Providing safe shelter for livestock during the hours of dusk to dawn, when carnivores are most active, will lessen the chance of conflicts. The fool proof solution to the predation of livestock by mountain lions is to prevent their access to the livestock altogether.
The Mountain Lion Foundation recommends fencing for night paddocks that is tall enough to thwart mountain lions from leaping inside. Because mountain lions are amazing jumpers, this means fencing needs to be at least 20 ft tall and/or have an outward-facing overhang of at least 2 ft. In smaller pens, fully enclosing the area overhead offers the best protection. Night housing in a barn that can be locked is even better. In situations where it’s not feasible to utilize high fencing, roofed paddocks or barns, guardian livestock dogs have proven to be extremely successful in deterring mountain lions.
Pets can also make for an intriguing target for young, or desperate mountain lions, even though they do not represent a lions usual source of prey. Monitoring pets when they’re allowed outside at night, and providing them with protective shelter can go a long way to negate the concerns associated with resident mountain lions. Removing all food, and abstaining from feeding pets outdoors if they can be fed indoors will prevent attracting wild animals. Deer, rodents, raccoons, opossums, foxes, coyotes, bears or mountain lions are all attracted to food left outdoors–and the larger carnivores are attracted to the smaller animals that are there for the food.
Californians who thrive on recreation activities in the wild spaces around them must be mindful that when we venture out, we are luxuriating in shared spaces, which are also home to carnivores like mountain lions. We can utilize sound devices like bear bells, and move at a moderate pace, rather than high speeds, which mimic the movement of fleeing prey animals, to avoid conflict with any carnivore who might be in the area. Slower speeds also lessen the risk of accidentally startling an animal on the trail. Regardless of the activities being enjoyed, bear spray can be kept on hand if needed to deter mountain lions or other carnivores. Loud human voices have been shown to scare animals away.
Mountain lions do not want to come into conflict with humans, but as they adjust to life in a world more and more devoted to human needs, we must help them as much as we can by giving them the room and understanding that they, too, must navigate a human-oriented world. A mountain lion spotted in an outer suburban area does not mean it has taken up residence or is ill, nor does the loss of livestock to a mountain lion indicate that that animal has ‘given up’ on its regular food source in favor of ‘easy meals’. Often such conflicts are nothing more than the result of a misunderstanding of mountain lion behavior, or domestic animals that were left in a situation that left them vulnerable and could have been prevented. No rancher wants to lose livestock to mountain lions, either, so it’s vital that they participate in mountain lion conservation, rather than being subjected to it. This is something the Mountain Lion Foundation believes strongly in as well. Helping ranchers and those with livestock help both themselves, and mountain lions, through positive animal husbandry, better livestock management, and preventative measures.
The Mountain Lion Foundation believes that coexisting with our mountain lion neighbors will require both the public, and livestock owners to work from science and shared facts, and that it will help if we do not jump to conclusions based on social media posts or online misinformation or speculation. All of us live together in this amazing state, and it will take all of us working together to assure that we can live peacefully and healthily into the future.
Artemis Grey is a novelist who was raised on fairytales and the folklore of Appalachia. She hopes to make her readers look at the world they’ve always seen, and see the world they’ve always envisioned.
In addition to her novels, Artemis is a staff writer for the International Consortium for Animal-welfare United in Stewardship and contributes environmental and conservation themed articles to ICARUS regularly.
We’re grateful to California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) for their efforts to save mountain lions in the state. A young mountain lion left orphaned after its mother was killed in traffic, has been released into the wild after months of care provided by CDFW and the San Diego Humane Society (Ramona Wildlife Center). The lion and her sister were roughly six months old when they were first seen in February at the edges of Tijeras Creek Golf Course in Orange County. After confirming the siblings had been orphaned, CDFW with assistance from Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital veterinarians and the UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center California Mountain Lion Project captured the pair for possible rehabilitation.
CDFW is carefully piloting the release and rehabilitation of mountain lions in California on a case-by-case basis. This is the second mountain lion rehabilitated and released in the state of California.
Read the press release:
June 23, 2021
Young, Orphaned Mountain Lion Released Following Rehabilitation
A young mountain lion left orphaned after its mother was killed in traffic, has been released into the wild after months of care provided by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and the San Diego Humane Society (Ramona Wildlife Center).
The lion and her sister were roughly six months old when they were first seen in February at the edges of Tijeras Creek Golf Course in Orange County. After confirming the siblings had been orphaned, CDFW with assistance from Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital veterinarians and the UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center California Mountain Lion Project captured the pair for possible rehabilitation.
The first lion was sent to San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Wildlife Center and placed into a large, isolated enclosure with only minimal human contact. Using remote cameras, staff monitored the lion’s growth for both size and strength for four months prior to release. The second mountain lion had a left forearm fracture and first needed surgical repair by the Serrano Animal and Bird Hospital in Lake Forest (Orange County) veterinary team. She is still in care at the Ramona Wildlife Center and recovering.
CDFW is carefully piloting the release and rehabilitation of mountain lions in California on a case-by-case basis. This is the second mountain lion rehabilitated and released in the state of California. The first mountain lion rehabilitated by CDFW was an adult female when the San Gabriel mountains burned in the Bobcat Fire. Satellite tracking collar data and remote camera photographs indicate that cat has survived and is doing well since its return to the wild in October 2020.
CDFW senior wildlife veterinarian Dr. Deana Clifford is hoping for similar results with the young lion released this week.
“Although this cat is only 10 months old, she’s consistently behaving like a wild mountain lion,” Dr. Clifford noted. “As for any young mountain lion, her chances of survival in the wild are lower than an adult, but if she does survive and reproduce she will make an important contribution to the mountain lion population in this region of Southern California”
“We are very excited to have been a part of this pilot effort for mountain lion rehab in California,” said Christine Barton, director of operations and wildlife rehabilitation at San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Wildlife Center. “We hope these few months with us have provided her the extra time needed to fill the void left from losing her mother.”
CDFW Regional Wildlife Program Supervisor Christine Thompson said it was through the dedication and cooperation of many organizations (Ramona Wildlife Center, Serrano Hospital, UC Davis) that this release was made possible.
“These efforts of rehabbing and providing medical care are only possible through the valuable partnerships we enjoy with these groups,” said Thompson. “Californians are fortunate to have so many passionate people working for the benefit of the state’s wildlife.”
California Assembly Bill 434 would have expanded Commercial Grazing leases in California State Parks
The Mountain Lion Foundation lead a large and diverse coalition of conservation, public lands, and wildlife protection organizations in opposing California Assembly Bill 434. This bill aimed to greatly expand commercial grazing leases in California’s state parks, wildlife areas, ecological reserves, and other precious public lands that mountain lions call their home. Due to strong opposition the author pulled the bill from consideration this year.
Our opposition letter:
March 25, 2021
The Honorable Robert Rivas
California State Assembly
Sacramento, CA 95814
RE: Opposition to Assembly Bill 434 (Public lands: grazing leases.)
Dear Assemblymember Rivas:
On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we write to express opposition to your Assembly Bill 434 (AB 434), which would unnecessarily, and problematically, expand grazing in California’s public lands, including our state parks and lands managed by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) and State Lands Commission.
We have strong concerns about the conflicts with native wildlife and the recreating public that expanded grazing on our state’s public lands would create. Grazing by non-native species has led to severe and sometimes irreversible degradation of native ecosystems. Specifically, grazing can cause degradation of habitats that threatened, endangered, or sensitive native plant and animal species rely on and can cause significant impairment of water quality. Our state’s public lands belong to all Californians and must be managed to maintain their long-term ecological integrity and access for all.
AB 434 proposes to elevate the tool of grazing above other tools for resource management, even though many other tools (e.g., prescribed fire) have been shown to have greater efficacy for the resource management goals of the public lands at issue. For example, for CDFW lands, AB 434 inexplicably would promote grazing as a management tool even if it is incompatible with the purpose for which the lands were acquired or incompatible with the land management plan. AB 434 also would elevate grazing as the primary tool for resource management on state public lands even if other tools were more appropriate to meet the resource management goals at the heart of state parks’ mission – namely, protecting biodiversity and the state’s most valued natural and cultural resources.
AB 434’s proposed 5-20 year lease term locks in an arbitrary timeframe to benefit ranchers while removing latitude of public land managers to develop a grazing agreement that incorporates variables such as time, intensity, herd size, and improvements (e.g., fences, off-stream watering devices). These and other elements need to be considered as part of a holistic approach that would reflect the variable conditions across the millions of acres of California.
By allowing grazing unless it is determined to be incompatible, AB 434 upends the current authorities, which allows grazing if determined to be compatible with public land purposes. Shifting to a presumption of compatibility unless state land managers can prove incompatibility is fundamentally at odds with California’s approach to environmental laws (e.g., CEQA), and would require the state to undertake costly compatibility assessments on proposals to graze public lands. Because the measure would apply to virtually all state public lands, such assessments could cost the public hundreds of thousands of dollars per year and would take critical staff resources from other priority biodiversity protection and climate adaptation efforts.
AB 434’s costs extend beyond such determinations of incompatibility. Other costs would include, but not be limited to:
installing and maintaining grazing control devices (fences);
installing and maintaining off-stream watering devices;
undertaking annual monitoring of grazing efficacy;
adding more staffing expertise in grazing lease development and management;
undertaking regulatory review for proposed leases – under CEQA, CESA, FESA, Clean Water Act, CDFW LSA, for each proposed lease;
completing cultural resources review including PRC 5024 review and review by the Office of Historical Preservation; and,
undertaking tribal cultural resources (AB 52)
While AB 434 would expand grazing on state public lands, it does not provide funding to administer or manage for this expanded use on public lands. State parks and CDFW have insufficient funding, and staff to create and administer monitoring systems that will provide reasonable assurance that adverse impacts will be minimized and promised lease benefits are achieved. State lands managers also lack enforcement and program staff needed to react to and manage inevitable conflicts between grazers and native wildlife ranging from depredation by native carnivores to impacts on threatened and endangered species.
By requiring preferential renewal if terms of the lease are met, AB 434 would significantly curtail the ability of state public land managers to adaptively manage grazing on our public lands. Changing lease terms to respond to changed management needs would begin with a presumption against the state. We believe that once a rancher has secured a public lands lease, the land will never again be available to the public – it will be income-generating land for the benefit of the private leaseholder. Grazing would displace recreational activity in the backcountry where it is already limited for many populations. In addition to impacting the goals of equitable access, this loss of recreation would negatively impact the state’s revenues, which are relied upon to underwrite resource protection and stewardship.
There is a robust documentary record of the negative impacts that grazing can have on natural and cultural resources. These impacts range from water quality and wildlife impacts, to spread of invasive exotic species to destruction of archaeological sites and tribal cultural resources. While some of these impacts can be minimized or mitigated with good oversight and management, that oversight and management will require new dedicated and skilled staff and concomitant funding resources needed to support these new activities.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, existing law already gives state public land managers authority to utilize grazing as a tool to manage land where they determine that it is appropriate. AB 434 thus adds no public benefits; instead, it benefits grazers to the detriment of the state’s public land managers, the recreating public, taxpayers, and our most precious public lands and the native wildlife who live there.
For all these reasons, our organizations oppose AB 434.
Brandon Dawson, Policy Advocate
Sierra Club California
Lindsay Larris, Wildlife Program Director
Debra Chase, CEO
Mountain Lion Foundation
Brian Nowicki, CA Climate Policy Director
Center for Biological Diversity
René Rowland, Chair
Neal Desai, Senior Director of Field Operations
National Parks Conservation Association
Jennifer Hauge, Legislative Affairs Manager
Animal Legal Defense Fund
Adrienne Underwood, Policy Manager
California State Parks Foundation
Gordon Bennett , President
Save Our Seashore
Morgan Patton, Executive Director
Environmental Action Committee of West Marin
Geoffrey McQuilkin, Executive Director
Mono Lake Committee
Rico Mastrodonato, Government Affairs Director
Trust for Public Land
Sofia Rafikova, Policy & Operations Coordinator
Planning and Conservation League
It is with great sadness that we note the passing of Kathy Fletcher, former President of the Mountain Lion Foundation.
Kathy began her work on behalf of mountain lions while she was working for Assembly Member Richard Katz who became one of the chairs of the Prop 117 campaign. Savvy, funny, wise and absolutely reliable, Kathy guided Richard and us through the political morass that was predator protection at the time. She later joined the MLF Board of Directors and was elected President to help guide MLF through leadership changes, the No on 197 campaign and the transition from a Foundation that was formed to stop the killing of mountain lions to become a national leader in puma protection with extensive influence in habitat and corridor protection. Former MLF President Bill Yeates also recalled today that Kathy played the key staff role in establishing the authorities of the Coastal Commission under the auspices of Senator Henry Mello’s office. Former MLF Executive Director Lynn Sadler recalled Kathy’s sense of fun but also her sense of duty, noting that Kathy played a major role in raising her grandchildren after the death of her daughter.