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Cougar Photographed by Michigan Trail Cam Suggests Resident Population in Upper Peninsula

This cougar captured by a trail cam in Marquette County, Michigan is the best and clearest to date. The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy believes there is a resident cougar population there amid numerous sightings, while the Michigan Department of Natural Resources believes it is a wandering animal just passing through.

Multiple appearances of cougars over a long period of time has the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy convinced that cougars (also known as mountain lions) in the state are a resident breeding population and not just passing through.

For several years, numerous Michigan counties have confirmed cougar sightings. For example, Baraga, Houghton, Keweenaw and Ontonagon counties have reported a cougar sightings since September of 2011.

Across the country, states are reporting higher numbers of cougars and sightings in areas where the animal’s population was long thought to be extinguished. Officials estimate that there are currently about 30,000 cougars alive in the United States thanks to successful conservation efforts of the cougar’s prey, such as mule deer. Some states have reclassified the cougar to a managed game species. The press release below has more information on the status of the cougar population in Michigan.

Original press release issued by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy on July 18, 2012:

The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy (MWC), a non-profit organization based in Bath, near Lansing, recently confirmed the presence of a cougar in southern Marquette County. The cougar was photographed by a cased and padlocked trail camera on private property on June 1, 2012. The property owners will also share their information with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (MDNR) but do not wish to be publicly identified.

Dr. Patrick Rusz, Director of Wildlife Programs for the Conservancy, and Michael Zuidema, a retired DNR forester, verified the trail camera’s location on a well-worn wildlife trail atop a wooded ridge. The camera has also photographed wolves, coyotes, fishers and numerous other species at the same site over a four year period.

The MWC is publicizing this photograph because it may be the best, clearest photograph of a wild Michigan cougar ever taken. It is also unusually interesting because Mr. Zuidema has recorded over twenty credible cougar sightings in the same vicinity since the 1970s. These include several sightings within a few miles of the trail camera location.

Dr. Rusz stated that “the long history of sighting reports in the area indicates the cougar photographed on June 1 may be part of a resident population rather than a wandering cat from a western state.” Dr. Rusz has studied cougars for the Conservancy for 14 years and is co-author of a peer-reviewed study that confirmed cougars in both peninsulas of Michigan by analyses of DNA in droppings. He has also identified a long list of additional physical evidence dating back to 1966, and notes that Michigan State College zoologist Richard Manville documented several cougar sightings or incidents when he inventoried the fauna of Marquette County’s Huron Mountains from 1939 to 1942.

The large volume of recent Michigan evidence includes fifteen MDNR confirmations since the agency formed a cougar team of specially trained biologists in 2008. The most recent MDNR confirmation occurred last May when a cougar was photographed with a hand-held camera near Skanee in Baraga County. That photograph was taken about 50 miles north of the Marquette County trail camera location.

“The MDNR cougar team should now look at the very good evidence of a remnant cougar population collected before 2008,” said Bill Taylor, President of the Conservancy. “They could still easily verify cougar photos taken in the 1990’s in Alcona and Oscoda Counties in the Lower Peninsula and some others. The vegetation and other landmarks needed to confirm the photos are still there.”

The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy is a non-profit citizens group established in 1982 to restore Michigan’s wildlife legacy. The Conservancy has restored more than 8,200 acres of wetlands, 2,500 acres of prairies and grasslands, and hundreds of miles of trout streams, and helped with several rare species recoveries and the creation of many backyard habitats. The Conservancy website, www.miwildlife.org, highlights some of the completed habitat restorations and other work.

Image courtesy of Michigan Wildlife Conservancy

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of OutdoorHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.
  • Rick

    Outdoor Hub, why do you post this article with the view of the less than credible MWC instead of the far more credible expert opinion of the Michigan DNR? There is absolutely zero evidence of a “resident” population of cougars in the U.P., or anywhere else in Michigan. And, this photo does not provide any such evidence. At best, this photo, if valid, documents the presence of another dispersing cougar arriving from an established population elsewhere. Every apparently wild cougar documented in recent years in the upper Great Lakes region, i.e., Wisconsin and Michigan, from which physical evidence could be obtained, have been shown to be of western origin, usually from the Black Hills region. It is fairly well established that this source has produced a number of dispersing animals, all young males. For example, the young male killed in Chicago, and the male killed on the road in Connecticut and known to have traveled through the upper Great Lakes, were shown to be from the Black Hills.

    Furthermore, the MWC has been long known as a source of misinformation and distortion on the issue of cougars in Michigan. The so called “peer reviewed” article by Mr.Rusz was thoroughly rebutted by top scientists. Indeed, its conclusions are wildly at odds with reality in any case, because zero genuine and reasonably expected evidence is available to support the baseless claims it made.

    Outdoor Hub readers are urged to read a well researched 2007 Michigan Outdoor News article that remains definitive about the dubious role of MWC.

    http://www.outdoornews.com/July-2007/States-cougar-research-is-under-scientists-scrutiny/
    http://www.outdoornews.com/July-2007/Cougar-research-is-under-the-microscope/

  • Nick

    I am a retired USFS Forester and I have lived on the north shore of Dinner Lake in the western Upper Peninsula for 32 years. I personally heard the unmistakable snarl of a big cat outside my window 30 years ago. Since then there have been numerous sightings of a big cat around Dinner Lake – no radio collars noted. If there aren’t sparse resident populations then Dinner Lake must be on a travel corridor for cougars. I think there is at least one cougar that lives around here and very occasionally it is spotted by someone.

  • dogtrack101

    “plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a RELIEF it is”

    Where the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy and cougars are concerned, it
    is indeed a relief that readers are not forced to endure yet another
    photograph of a HOUSECAT. For example, like the two housecats in the
    video that Mr. Dennis Fijalkowski used as their reason to state that MWC
    believed showed “PROOF of a breeding population” of cougars in
    Michigan. See for yourself; MWC still carries that ridiculous video on
    their website. Guess what, two housecats in a field near Toledo, Ohio
    do not prove there are any actual wild resident mountain
    lions in Michigan!

    But now – for a change – there is an actual image of
    a mountain lion to consider; nonetheless, that still falls way short
    of any reason to suggest that there might be a wild resident (breeding) population of
    mountain lions in Michigan.

    However, somehow, once again, via some unknown convolution of
    reason, MWC indicates the image in question somehow supposedly
    “SUGGESTS there is a resident population in Upper Peninsula.”
    Obviously, that image suggests nothing of the sort. There is absolutely
    no reasonable evidence of a wild resident (breeding) cougar population
    in the U.P..

    Let’s see, first, MWC’s press release neglects to inform readers the two photographs in
    Houghton and Keweenaw counties, which they refer to in their press
    release, involve a radio-collared mountain lion that had undoubtedly
    appeared in northwestern Wisconsin during July 2011, northeastern
    Wisconsin in August, and Ontonagon County, Michigan in September.
    Obviously just one cat on the move, and a cat that provides absolutely no
    justification to even suspect, let alone suggest, a breeding population
    of wild mountain lions in Michigan – or Wisconsin – or Minnesota – or
    Iowa – or Ohio. Simple as that.

    If the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy needs an example of proof of a
    breeding population, they need only look approximately 750 miles
    southeast of Marquette County at that relatively small mountain lion
    population (probably less than 300 cats), which exists in the Black
    Hills of southwestern South Dakota. The proof equates to 600 (six
    hundred) carcasses (including many specimens of females and cubs) that
    have accumulated there since 1998, as the Black Hills population
    increased from a few animals in the early 1990s to the numbers that
    exist there today. The actual land area of the habitat used by mountain
    lions in the Black Hills of South Dakota would not cover more than 20%
    of the area of the entire U.P.

    A few photographs of wild cougars, or in certain cases, alleged wild
    cougars – or even several dozen images – DO NOT SUGGEST a resident
    (breeding) population of wild mountain lions in the Upper Peninsula any
    more than did those 7 (seven) trail camera photographs of just TWO
    migrating mountain lions in Wisconsin between July and November last
    year .

    What is MWC’s agenda?

  • Joe

    MWC is a joke, they have been caught making things up many times. Like others said, they used house cats near Detroit as proof of Cougars in Michigan’s LP.

  • dogtrack101

    Joe: Yep, there are plenty of housecats in the Lower. Here’s a link to one of the
    MWC housecat sightings that you are probably referring to – Sterling Heights, March 2005: http://www.sterling-heights.net/bins/site/content/images/SH_cat_sighting_031505.mpg?_resolutionfile=ftppath%7Cimages/SH_cat_sighting_031505.mpg

    The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy made a fuss about of this particular housecat video too; there were also
    numerous so called news articles about it. Patrick J. Rusz actually
    produced a “report” of sorts that wound up at the Sterling Heights
    Police
    Department. In it, Rusz claimed that “measurements” he had
    taken “indicate(d) that the animal was NOT a housecat,” rather
    it
    was “a large (approximately 60 lb) cat

    that appeared to be a cougar.” What a
    crock – that animal is a housecat. A blind man can see that.
    Can’t find a link on the Internet for another one
    of my favorite
    MWC housecat videos though. That one was in Sept. 2009 when Patrick
    Rusz SUGGESTED that he had determined that a housecat (named “Squeaky”)
    was a cougar. For a change, the Michigan DNR sort of stood up to MWC
    and investigated the matter and an MDNR CO clearly demonstrated
    the animal in question was a
    housecat. Here’s the title of a second article on that
    particular absurdity: “Leelanau County
    sighting: COUGAR or HOUSECAT?” It’s not
    the best article, but you’ll get the idea. Here’s the link:
    http://www.northernexpress.com/michigan/article-4133-leelanau-county-sighting-cougar-or-housecat.html

    This entire affair isn’t much different than the fable of The Boy
    Who Cried Wolf. MWC has cried cougar so many times they now have
    no credibility (zero) with many of us. Well, come to think of it,
    actually, for some of us, MWC never really had any when it comes to this
    cougar thing given that credibility is earned.

    Now, since Pat Rusz is involved with an actual image of a cougar as shown, due to
    this credibility issue, I can barely keep myself from wondering whether
    that image is actually valid. Looks like it should be, but then
    photohop is so easy these days, how can one actually know. I certainly
    would not bet the image is authentic, but at the same time, would
    guess that it is. Since nearly everyone would like to see good, clean
    evidence that clearly shows cougar presence, possibly MWC should have
    requested that DNR visit the site; MWC should have also presented DNR
    with copies of all the photographic evidence at the very outset.
    Doesn’t sound as if that was the case, though considering the
    circumstances, would have been a reasonable start.

    • deadeye

      hi just was cheching this site out cause like most iv got a pick on my cudd back cam and everyone says by looking at a less than crapy photo say its a mtn. lion cougar what ever and iv heard all the stories and im not sure im totally on the fence. I lived in mesa Arizona lots of lions there 4 sure so I have seen tracks herd roars cries and all kinds of noises and shot one lion in 2004 185lbs male . so here is my story my father inlaw has lived in Munising area in Hiawatha national forest with his father of 76 years of age on old plank road these guys are die hard and I mean DIE HARD dog hunters and they can track anything and they have about 20-25 friends that are the same way they took me on a bobcat hunt where I shot a 41lb male and they hunt bear also and they do not always shoot the animal most of there fun is in running and training new pups and none of these guys have ever said they could id a track roar or anything and these guys know there stuff they have college edu in wildlife reaserch and they spend there time and free time in these woods so even if they don’t believe what about the 2-300 dogs they run threw the woods all over in Michigan would THEY the dogs not at least catch wind of one of these lions or cougars there not prejudice against any CAT iv seen them run barn cats if there in the woods thanks for reading