Sunday, February 08, 2009

Cougars attempt to re-inhabit eastern U.S.

The ‘Big Cats’ still roam
By Blaine Kloppenborg
POSTED: February 2, 2009

States long devoid of cougars are now finding evidence of cats coming here to stay, and many of our central states are now seeing mountain lion migrations. States in the Midwest and South that have not been home to mountain lions in the past century are now starting to see some migrating big cats within their borders. What's more, wildlife officials say their numbers may increase if the trend of more females roaming into their regions continues.

Several months ago, wildlife officials using DNA confirmed that a cat seen about 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee was a lion - Wisconsin's first confirmation since 1905. Two days later, a 100-pound male lion was killed by a conservation officer in Scottsbluff, Neb. There's new evidence lions are not just wandering through the state, but making it home.

John Kanta, a regional wildlife manager with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish and Parks, says the migration is due in part to the fact that the Black Hills of South Dakota are saturated with mountain lions. Young males, he says, are often forced out by older cats. Interestingly, most reports of mountain lions - also known as cougars and pumas, among other names - travelling hundreds of miles across the country in recent years involve males.

Now, Kanta says, researchers are noticing female pumas beginning to make their own long-distance treks and looking to breed. And this, he says, holds the potential for a far greater impact on states in the central USA from Wisconsin and Iowa in the north to Missouri and Arkansas in the south.

Just last year, the body of a puma kitten was found near Chadron, Neb. That was significant, as it probably represented the state's first evidence of reproduction in modern times.

In Arkansas: Arkansas contained the highest percentage of potentially favorable habitat - 19 percent among nine states studied by Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. Although much of the Plains is considered unsuitable for pumas, the research suggests that potentially large parts of the central states could support the big cats, especially the Ozark Mountains of Missouri and Arkansas, as well as parts of Oklahoma and Minnesota.

In Missouri: The Department of Conservation's Mountain Lion Response Team has confirmed 10 instances of mountain lions in the state since 1994.

In Montana: A female puma from South Dakota's Black Hills turned up in Montana's Custer National Forest. That's about 130 miles from home in the Black Hills. And earlier a female puma was killed by a land owner more than 300 miles from the Black Hills.

It would seem that the population overabundance of mountain lions in the Black Hills is spilling over into the surrounding states. That's a bit scary.

Iowa non-game wildlife checkoff fund - I'm often asked: "What is it?" or, "What is the money used for?" Well, actually, it's probably the most well-spent money that the state collects. And now is the time of the year when Iowa residents contribute to the DNR's Non-game Wildlife Checkoff Fund on their state tax forms.

Donations made to this fund are used by the DNR's Non-game Wildlife Program for a number of comprehensive statewide efforts to help protect and manage the state's "non-game" wildlife species.

These include more than 800 kinds of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, fish, butterflies and selected invertebrates that are not traditionally hunted or harvested. The fund also finances conservation efforts for threatened and endangered species. Specifically, the species that have benefited from these efforts are bald eagles, trumpeter swans, peregrine falcons, eastern bluebirds, Blanding's turtles, bats, timber rattlesnakes, great blue herons and other colonial water birds like egrets and grebes.

In addition, funds are used to acquire land and easements to protect habitat, manage prairies, forests and wetlands, create buffer zones along lakeshores, assist private land owners and local governments with habitat, and support educational programs.

Actually, it is more commonly known as the Chickadee Checkoff. And of all the state's various funding programs... to me, this one more clearly represents my tax dollars at work, and the biggest bang for my buck.

As I write this column, the weatherman -Old Man Whatchamacallit - is forecasting another week of cold, near-zero weather. Sheesh! What nerve. It gives me the willies just to think about it. The worst part about it is, there is so little (try nothing) I can do about the situation. He's given us one forecast all week long. One. It's always the same: "Cold, the temperatures will be 9 degrees, snow flurries, windchill in the single digits." Pleeeeze, somebody this this guy a new script to read.

And did I tell you... No... I don't think I did... Iowa's Bobwhite Quail, Gray Partridge, Ruffed Grouse, Raccoon, Opossum, Bobcat and Red and Gray Squirrel seasons all come to an end Jan. 31. Basically, except for cottontail rabbit, pigeon and crow, the hunting seasons are over the another year.

And now... have a good weekend.


Learn more about big cats and Big Cat Rescue at

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