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Are NY mountain lions truly extinct, now?

Mar 03, 2011 8:54 am
[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="200" caption="An Esatern Cougar, seen in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service photo of one captured (and stuffed) in Maine in the 1930s. From USFWS website."][/caption]Lyssa Harris of The Watershed Post reports that after several years of weighing the evidence, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finally called a halt to its investigation of the eastern cougar and declared it extinct. “We recognize that many people have seen cougars in the wild within the historical range of the eastern cougar,” said the Service’s Northeast Region Chief of Endangered Species Martin Miller in a report published in recent weeks. “However, we believe those cougars are not the eastern cougar subspecies. We found no information to support the existence of the eastern cougar.” The eastern cougar, which once ranged across eastern North America, is (or was) considered by many scientists to be a subspecies -- a population that is distinct from other subspecies of cougars, but not genetically different enough from other cougars to be considered a species in its own right. Within their story on the matter, the WP highlights a controversy over classification of cougars, and takes a nod to repeated sightings of cougar-like "mountain lions" within the Catskills region. "While the FWS has apparently closed the book on the survival of wild eastern cougars, we doubt today's announcement will satisfy folks who have been insisting for decades that there are mountain lions in the hills of New York State," Harris writes. "If you've lived in the Catskills for any length of time, odds are you know somebody with a cougar story, and a lot of them aren't easy to explain away as bobcat sightings or figments of overactive imaginations. Could western cougars have roamed all the way across the Midwest to end up in New York State?" This reporter saw one of the animals in Delaware County in 1998, and has run images of the animal's paw prints and scat in local newspapers. He has also published interviews with local wildlife specialists, some working with the state, who have talked of state programs that placed the large cats into the wilds of the Catskills, only to retract such statements at later dates. Keep your eyes open...