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February 5, 2005

Cougar sighting confirmed

DNR: It could have come from other state

Record-Eagle staff writer

      TRAVERSE CITY - A cougar confirmation in the Upper Peninsula won't sway the Department of Natural Resources' stance on the possibility of a "breeding population" of cougars in the state.
The agency still wants more evidence.
The DNR confirmed this week that a hair sample turned in by a motorist who hit "a large cat" in Menominee County came from a cougar.
The cougar sighting in the Upper Peninsula was not a surprise, said Raymond Rustem, supervisor of the DNR's natural heritage unit.
"We have said all along we expect there are cougars out there based on reports coming in," he said.
He said an isolated cougar sighting doesn't confirm Michigan has a breeding population. The cougar could have been released from captivity or a transient that strayed into Michigan from Minnesota or Canada.
Rustem said the Upper Peninsula sighting near the Wisconsin border also could indicate cougar movement into Michigan from western states just as evidence collected in the early 1980s in a nearby location indicated the reappearance of a wolf population in the state.
It shouldn't take a cougar confirmation in the Upper Peninsula to get the DNR to acknowledge a cougar population there or in Lower Michigan, said Patrick Rusz, a biologist with the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.
"There's solid evidence that you have cougars in northwest (Lower) Michigan," Rusz said. "They're not looking at the big picture and they're not really analyzing information the way they should."
Rusz said there is plenty of evidence of a cougar population in Menominee County - including bone fragments collected in 1984, a DNA-tested feces sample collected in 2002 and a cougar caught on video in 2002.
"It seems to us like the cougar kind of went bureaucratically extinct, they decided it was not good to acknowledge a cougar population ... because someone might want them to do something about it," he said.
Rustem said there is no reason the DNR would ignore evidence of a cougar population. If cougars do live in the state, they are protected by the Endangered Species Act and there is a large deer population to sustain them.
"What other measures would we take?" Rustem said. " I've never really heard what more we should be doing than what we're doing."
The National Park Service has posted cougar warning signs in parts of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore after sightings there in 2003.
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