Eastern Cougar Foundation

EasternCougar.org
cougarrewilding.org

Cougar Rewilding Foundation


About the Cougar Rewilding Foundation
How to Join or Renew Your Membership

How to Join or Renew Your Membership

Membership is open to anyone interested in the large native cats known across eastern North America as panthers, cougars, mountain lions, pumas, painters, and catamounts. Dues are $20 per calendar year and finance quarterly newsletters as well as programs to achieve the goals of the organization. To join, either use our secure PayPal payment system (see below) or send a check to the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, PO Box 81, Hanover, WV, 24839. The CRF is a 501(c)(3) organization.  Dues and donations are tax-deductible.

4 Regular CRF Annual Membership ($20)
Annual membership includes the CRF Newsletter delivered via email or USPS.
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Donate to Cougar Rewilding Foundation
With a donation of $20 or more to the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, you will receive a 1-year CRF membership which includes the CRF Newsletter delivered via email.

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If you donate $50 or more you will receive the 16" x 20" print "Phantom Cat'
by Brenda McClain

While supplies last.

poster1.jpg (64571 bytes)

Mission & Goals

Mission & Goals

Mission statement: To facilitate the recovery of the cougar in suitable wild habitat east of the Rocky Mountains.


1. Promote recovery of breeding populations of cougars through natural recolonization and mandated restorations to the central, southeastern and eastern United States, advocating responsible management in habitat where cougars are recovering.

2. Promote full legal protection of all cougars living wild east of the Rockies, regardless of origin.

3. Conduct public education programs by preparing cougar education modules and lesson plans, exhibiting at outdoor and conservation events, and giving presentations to interested groups.

4. Conduct habitat and public attitude surveys.

5. Evaluate evidence and conduct investigations in collaboration with wildlife agencies to document cougar presence along their expanding range into eastern habitat.

 

Officers and Board of Directors

Officers and Board of Directors

Officers
President: Christopher Spatz  

Past President: Todd Lester, WVA Coal Miner, Conservationist, ECF Founder.Dr. Jay Tischendorf

Vice President: Dr. John Laundre'

Treasurer: Todd Lester 
Membership Chair: Kerry Gyekis
Newsletter Editor: Staff  

Facebook Moderator: Julia Smith

Internship Coordinator:  Dr. Marcella Kelly, Va Tech

Board of Directors:
Chris Bolgiano, writer and author of articles, investigative reports, radio commentaries, and several books including two on the eastern cougar. Also retired adjunct professor at James Madison University and one of original co-founders of The Eastern Cougar Foundation.  
 
Dr. Jay Tischendorf, veterinarian, cougar researcher, organizer of the 1994 Eastern Cougar Conference, and co-organizer of the 2004 Eastern Cougar Conference.

Kerry Gyekis, Pennsylvania-based Forester, Land Planner, Hunter, and former Peace Corps Volunteer.

Christopher Spatz, MSW, rock climber and New York based conservationist.

Dr. John Laundré, pioneering conservation biologist in predator ecology. Studied cougars in the West and in Mexico for more than 20 years.  He now lives and teaches in Oswego, New York.

Ben Shrader, is private practicing civil engineer/land surveyor/soil scientist and a life long outdoor enthusiast.  Ben volunteers for Smithsonian Institution doing a trail camera predator survey along the Appalachian Trail.  He also volunteers for the Virginia Hunter Education Association and is active in Bedford Outdoor Sportsman Association. 

John Davis, wildlands advocate, writer and explorer.  Co-founder of the Wildlands Network.  Formerly director of conservation for the Adirondack Council and land steward for the Eddy Foundation.  He lives in Essex, New York.

Advisors:

Susan Morse, carnivore expert and director of Keeping Track.

Mark Jenkins, director of Cooper's Rock Mountain Lion Sanctuary for abused captive cougars..

Dr. Marcella Kelly, Assistant Professor of Wildlife Biology at VA Polytechnic Institute who researches jaguars with remote cameras in Belize and black bears in VA.

Website and Blog: Jannette Wing-Pazer; Kwen Fie Cheng; J. Patrick & Associates, Inc.

Emeritus Advisors:
Robert L. "Bob" Downing, USFWS, Retired

Advisor, Posthumus:
Dr. David S. Maehr
(September 18, 1955 - June 20, 2008), conservation biologist at the Univ. of KY and former leader of the FL Panther Field Research Program.
In Memory of Dave Maehr

History

History

The Eastern Cougar Foundation was established in 1998 by West Virginia coal miner and houndsman Todd Lester and Appalachian nature writer Chris Bolgiano.

Years earlier, one morning in 1983 when Todd was hunting, he saw an animal he'd never seen before: a long-tailed cat stepping cautiously down the mountainside. Todd knew that cougars were native to the Appalachian Mountains because of the family stories his grandmother told. Sure of what he'd seen, and thrilled by it, Todd tried to talk to state game department officials, but they rudely dismissed him.

After that, Todd read widely and spent innumerable hours in the field, including Florida panther habitat during his stint in the Air Force, to learn about cougars.  He posted flyers throughout southern West Virginia and adjoining areas asking people to call him if they saw a cougar.  He followed up the most credible reports with field searches. In 2001, Todd completed an accredited 13-course program in forestry and wildlife management. 

In the 1990s, Todd established the eastern cougar listserv as a forum for people with an interest or expertise in eastern cougar history and biology.  Online, he met Chris Bolgiano, who was then working on her first book, Mountain Lion: An Unnatural History of Pumas and People, published in 1995.  Todd and Chris hit it off online as they exchanged their negative experiences with state wildlife officials to reports of cougars being seen in eastern states.  

“I knew individuals would never be able to influence the agencies to protect cougars in the East,” Todd said.  “We needed an organization.  Cougars are magnificent animals that can fill the eastern cougar’s role no matter where they come from, and they represent the essence of the wild country I love.”  

Tapping the contacts she developed for Mountain Lion, Chris recruited a Board of Directors composed of influential researchers and policy makers, including former Florida panther recovery field leader Dr. David Maehr, pioneering cougar geneticist Dr. Melanie Culver, Yellowstone cougar research and wildlife veterinarian Dr. Jay Tischendorf, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service biologist Bob Downing, who had made the only federal survey of cougars in the East ever undertaken, in the 1980s.  “I warned them that they’d miss the most important event in the history of eastern wildlife if they didn’t jump on board,” she said.  

With help from Helen McGinnis, who had just moved to West Virginia from California, found Todd’s listserv, and was ECF’s first and most enthusiastic volunteer, Chris wrote mission statements, goals for the board to consider, and the first grants for the remote camera surveys that Todd managed on the ground in the early 2000s.  She designed and hosted the Eastern Cougar Foundation’s first website at James Madison University, where she was then a professor in the Library.   Slowly, the organization attracted a dedicated group of people who believe in restoring the nature that humans have so badly damaged. 

As the organization continues to grow and develop, changing its name to Cougar Rewilding Foundation but not its focus on eastern ecosystems, Todd, Chris, and Helen continue to support its efforts to return cougars to their rightful place in the East. 

For a profile of Todd Lester, see Chris Bolgiano's web site, Living in the Appalachian Forest: True Tales of Sustainable Forestry (Stackpole Books, 2002).

In the summer of 2007, family and work responsibilities forced Todd to step down as president of ECF. He was succeeded as Interim President by Dr. Jay Tischendorf. Jay earned a BS degree in Zoology from Ohio University in 1984. He spent most of the next decade working as research assistant and field biologist on numerous federal, private, and academic studies primarily involving threatened or endangered predators. This work included service with such many notable wildlife scientists and organizations. Working under Maurice Hornocker and Gary Koehler in 1986, Jay helped to confirm for the first time in modern history the presence of a population of mountain lions in Yellowstone National Park. Subsequently, working as biologist and houndsman with Kerry Murphy, he spent two years tracking, capturing, immobilizing, and studying these cats.

After a subsequent four summers of wildland firefighting, Jay returned to school for advanced medical and scientific training. This led to a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences degree from Colorado State University in 1997. In addition to positions in clinical veterinary practice and the pharmaceutical industry, he continues to spend his professional life engaged in research on wildlife, primarily threatened and endangered predators, both avian and mammalian.

As a wildlife veterinarian, Dr. Tischendorf has consulted with the US Fish and Wildlife Service red wolf and black-footed ferret recovery programs, as well as with the US Forest Service Northern Rockies Wolverine Study. Jay is a federally licensed raptor bander. Additionally, Jay served for four years as field veterinarian for the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s Bobcat Research Project, during which time he helped pioneer the use of surgically implanted radio-transmitters in carnivore research. In Spring 2004 he consulted with US National Park Service wildlife researchers in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area in southern California, work that led soon after to the first successful application of radio-implants in mountain lions.

The founder and director of the American Ecological Research Institute, Dr. Tischendorf’s work and travels have taken him to all corners of North America. Jay has probably spent more time afield with a wider variety of threatened and endangered North American wildlife than any other biologist or wildlife veterinarian. He has been actively involved with the subject of pumas in the East for 25 years and has written extensively on the subject. Jay was the principal organizer of the first Eastern Cougar Conference, held in 1994 in Erie, Pennsylvania, and a co-organizer of the 2nd Eastern Cougar Conference, held in Morgantown, West Virginia in 2004.

On October 1, 2008, Jay Tischendorf was succeeded by Christopher Spatz as the ECF's third president. A relative newcomer to cougar studies, Chris brings his networking and advocacy experience as a clinical social worker and conservationist to the pursuit of returning cougars to the East.

He has run trailcam studies seeking cougars sanctioned by the NJ Division of Fish & Wildlife at High Point State Park, NJ, and at Minnewaska State Park Preserve near his home in the Shawangunks of southern New York State. A rock climber for thirty years, Chris was honored by the Access Fund, a national climbing advocacy group representing the sport's 1.6 million climbers, with their 2006 Sharp End Award for his work as a director of the Gunks Climbers' Coalition. His natural history essays have appeared in AMC Outdoors, The Weekender magazine, and on WAMC, the NPR affiliate in Albany, NY.

After a decade of running and participating in sanctioned remote camera surveys in seven eastern states, after spending thousands of hours on the ground following up cougar reports, and after reviewing hundreds of photographs submitted from Nova Scotia to Mississippi without logging a single cougar confirmation, the ECF stood at a crossroads. With cougars turning up consistently in the Midwest, where they hadn’t been confirmed in a century, we realized that there was no objective reason why such evidence – cats being treed, shot, snared, hit, photographed on random remote cameras and wandering into towns and cities – shouldn’t be occurring further east, if cougars were here. Though we dearly wished to find evidence to support all the sightings, ten years of searching had established what few guessed at our inception in 1999 – that wild, breeding cougars no longer roamed the East. It was time to take stock.

The foundation re-evaluated its goals, to focus less on the search for cougar evidence, and to put our efforts into recovering the big cat. We began advocating for the protection and recolonization of cougars to their former range in the Midwest, and to see them restored to the Southeast and the East via sanctioned reintroductions. Central to our restoration mission is the land-mark research between predators and prey pioneered in Yellowstone National Park by our Vice President, Dr. John Laundre: wolves and cougars guard and regulate ecosystems. Without predator presence, prey species like elk and deer overbrowse the landscape, wreaking ecological havoc. And nowhere is this crisis more evident and well documented than in the East’s deciduous forests. Overabundant white-tailed deer have arrested the next generation of trees, decimating ground-nesting songbird habitat, inviting the spread of invasive plants. The East needs cougars to restore ecological balance to our collapsing forests.

Having expanded our work to regions beyond our traditional base, we realized a name-change was needed to reflect our new mission – restoring cougars to the two-thirds of the country critically missing them. During the past twenty years, as ecologists and conservation biologists began to better understand the vital role predators play in functioning ecosystems, the movement to restore predators to federal wilderness areas linked by travel corridors providing the natural movement of wildlife between regions, began to inform conservation discussions and policy. That movement was called Rewilding: restoring native species to their native habitat.

In the summer of 2010, our officers and directors embraced the tenants of this movement, adopting the name, Cougar Rewilding Foundation.  With our new name and refocused mission, we look forward to playing a significant role in the restoration, the rewilding of cougars to their pre-colonial habitat, and return ecological balance to long suffering ecosystems.  We hope all current members help us in this new effort and encourage others to join in on our future endeavors.



Position Statements

Position Statements

On Reintroduction:  The CRF advocates implementation of the FL Panther reintroduction plan including community outreach and education.

CRF supports efforts to determine public sentiment toward predators and their recovery , and advocates science and evidence-based wildlife management to promulgate sound, solid, sensible conservation of our natural resources, including the puma and other wildlife. As well, the Cougar Rewilding Foundation is not opposed to sustainable sport hunting of cougars in areas where significant cougar populations are documented. However, at this time there are no such populations documented in the eastern United States.

On Origins of Cougars:  There are three possible sources for cougars in the East:  remnant natives, escaped/released captives, and migrants from known populations in Florida, the western U.S., and Canada.  It is entirely possible that cougars from two or all three sources are mingling (for an example of mixed ancestry, see the KY kitten confirmation, no. 13 under Confirmations on the Beyond Sightings to Signs page).  The ECF believes that any cougar capable of living independently wild is capable of filling the eastern cougar niche regardless of origins, and should be protected and respected as an eastern cougar.

On Cougars as Pets:   The CRF opposes the breeding and maintenance of cougars as pets.

The Eastern Cougar Foundation in the News

The Eastern Cougar Foundation in the News

Logan Banner, West Virginia, 1/09/2006 (PDF)

Jay Tischendorf interview in Hazleton (PA) Standard-Speaker, March 4, 2007, article by Allen Gregory

Talk by Kerry Gyekis at Beltzville State Park, Pennsylvania, October 4, 2007, article by Al Zagofsky

Talk by Kerry Gyekis at Beltzville State Park, Pennsylvania, October 4, 2007, article by John Serrao

Kerry Gyekis and Eastern Cougar Foundation Feature Article, November 2007:
http://mountainhomemag.com/november/cover_story.php

Cat Tales' in the Alleghenies - The Pocahontas Times, Mountain Times - November 2007

Eastern Cougar Foundation president calls for restorations East of the Prairies - North Jersey.com and Cougar News - January 17, 2010

Why the Midwest and East Needs the Puma

Why the Midwest and East Needs the Puma

ECF members are being asked to articulate why they want to see cougars return to the eastern woods.  As these essays are received they will be posted here.  To start them off, here is an excerpt from Chris Bolgiano's book Mountain Lion:  An Unnatural History of Pumas and People (Stackpole Books, 1995):

"In the end, it doesn't really matter whether "eastern" cougars are out there or not.  What matters is that cougars should be there.  Cougars belong in the East by evolutionary birthright.  It is the ripening of this idea that makes our time different from Adam Rudolph's [19th century cougar hunter's] day.  Still, it will be difficult to actually turn the idea into reality, to bring cougars back.  Unlike bears, which have been teddified for nearly a century, and wolves, whose admirable family life is now well known, cougars offer little on which to hang a notion of kinship.  They must be accepted on their own wild terms.  To find the humility to atone for past mistakes, to find the greatness of heart to share the woods with a being far beyond our ken -- that is the spiritual challenge of the eastern panther.

"Ambivalence has long been recognized as fundamental to the human psyche.  Sigmund Freud began writing about it in 1912, and many other students of human nature have explored its dimensions.  Ambivalence develops through stages that children pass through; perhaps cultures pass through them, too.  A child might say on one day she loves her brother and on the next, hates him.  With growth comes first the recognition that two opposite emotions might be aroused by one experience or person, then the understanding that those emotions might coexist simultaneously.  The final step to maturity is integration:  to balance the extremes without denying the complexities.

"Sometimes at dusk I sit on my deck and watch sunset-streaked clouds fade away behind Cross Mountain.  I wonder how it would be to know a panther crouches there again, yellow eyes gleaming, muscles taut, utterly focused.  How it would be to accept the risks with understanding and respect, in return for the rightness.  A dank breeze slides down Cross Mountain and a chill rises up my back.  It would feel, I think, like freedom."

Why We Want Cougars Back

The Gift of Fear: Seeds of Awe

by Christopher Spatz

When that cougar turned tail, a piece of my soul went with it...

Todd Lester, Founder Eastern Cougar Foundation

In debates over the inscrutability of pumas prowling eastern forests, in our advocacy for restoring panthers and the attendant questions of public fear that recovery raises, in the remarkable landscape of fear research distilling how cougars guard and shepherd ecosystems, too often, we lose sight of the cat tracking through our hearts and imaginations.

In its oldest definition, without its 21st century, zeitgeist baggage, fear means “reverential awe” – as being in the presence of a god. Fear’s synonym, anxiety, in Greek is ananke: necessity. Fear and anxiety: awe and necessity. Imagine that.

I can only guess at the intuition guiding deer and elk shadowed by predators, but what some of us apprehend in a sudden glimpse of animals both great and small – a coyote voling; a great horned owl lifting silently from its daytime roost; the lightning flash of a brookie seizing the stone fly – is a bolt of awe.

In tribal cultures and mythology, animals taught humans to dig and plow, what to eat, and how to hunt. They taught us to spin and to weave, to dance and to court. They bestowed fire and gave us speech. Wearing their skins and feathers we chanted and sang and danced around the flames, emulating their movement and display, in gratitude for their gifts.

Clans and tribes had their guardians and shepherds: Raven and Wolf, Shark and Crocodile, Mantis and Spider. During initiations, young men fasted, prayed, cried for an animal to guide and name them, to call and bless their awakening place as an adult member of the tribe. Shamans and medicine men summoned the animal familiars to their healing work. Devotionally interpreted throughout the life-works of Carl Jung’s American heirs, the mythologist, Joseph Campbell, and the lively, astonishing psychologist, James Hillman, animals were our first gods.

Etched and painted on rock and cave walls since the first stir of sapien wonder, our ancestors captured their awe, their reverence for animal grace. In a 1983 essay on The Animal Kingdom in Human Dreams, James Hillman suggests that their sleep appearances aren’t about masked instincts or compensation for character flaws, or, psychology’s tail- chasing elixir: symbols of personality. They arrive, says Hillman, unbidden, with their own purpose. He asks, provocatively, “Do they come so that we may see beauty, even to save beauty?” Is this not eminently clear echoing from the Paleolithic dream caverns of Chauvet and Lascaux?

To save beauty. Hillman makes the case that beyond diligent observations of eating and being eaten, food chains and fitful survival, courting and camouflage, the kaleidoscopic fecundity in animal coats, avian plumage, lizard and fish scales – their sheer ostentation, teeming pageantry, play and display – dazzling and delighting the eye, is an elemental reason for existence.

What business do peacocks and birds of paradise have toting around those ornate, unwieldy feathers when they aren’t courting – what did the Creator have in mind – if not for the sake of beauty?

Tiger, tiger burning bright
In the forests of the night
What immortal hand or eye
Dared frame thy fearful symmetry?

Fearful symmetry: William Blake dared to conjure ancient awe.

Midst the cataclysms of climate change, biodiversity loss, and mass extinctions are we not also gutting Earth’s animate tapestry of beauty? Conservation writer David Quammen and ecologist like John Terborgh have warned that our grandchildren will inherit a planet of weeds, a pestilence of impoverished brown.

As weed monocultures are consuming eastern forests bereft of cougars, so have we since World War II been destroying vernacular, Main Street culture, spreading pell-mell cities in grid after grid of look-alike Levittowns, casting sprawl from Maine to Malibu largely in a coat of beige.

Yet, in these drab, suburban landscapes, in Connecticut and New Jersey, “ghost cat” sightings stalk and haunt, like scattered bits of the ecstatic, regenerating god, Dionysus, whose chariot – whose very force is drawn by panthers – sowing life into barren burgs, for months, for years, the grapevine rumor of Wild: the seeds of awe.

Something in us needs cougars, needs their beauty rendered with the felicity of our cave painting ancestors, and the necessity of grace bestowed upon a young coal miner rooted to an Appalachian mountain standing face-to-face with a mountain lion, who departed with a piece of his soul.

As the cougar guards desert and forest and mountain ecosystems, so, too, is she a shepherd of the soul. 

WHY I WANT COUGARS BACK
Ben Shrader (VA)
Submitted January 2008

When I give thought to why I want cougars back, I could not get the thinking process going without soul searching and wondering what my ancestors would contribute to our dilemmas if they were here today.  My great grandfather (1838-1920) lived his entire life on ancestry land pioneered by our ancestors.  They lived totally off the land and supported raising of their families by hunting, cultivating corps, and growing livestock.   A confederate veteran, he was noted for his marksmanship and hunting skills.  He used a mountain fiest dog and a small bore mountain rife for hunting.  Although I doubt that he realized it, he is credited for killing probably the last known deer and wild turkey from this area of Tazewell County, Va. of this time.  Had a cougar wandered into this area then he would have killed it and would have been the family and neighborhood hero for eliminating the fear and threat of the beast.  The philosophy was that game was food for the table and a predator was a threat to you, your game, and livestock.

My grandfather (1872-1960) clung to the tradition of providing for the family from the land long after the industrial revolution and government had all but eliminated this historical way of life.  Squirrels, rabbits, grouse, and groundhogs were a large part of the diet.  Even though foxes were highly respected for a good hound chase, a fox near the chicken house or circling hawk was as good as dead.

My father (1902-1990), a coal miner, continued the family tradition of hunting.  He became actively involved in the restoration of deer and wild turkeys to the area. After years of the restoration process it was news to hear of someone miles away that had seen a deer.  I did not see a wild turkey in Tazewell County until 1963.  We traveled to adjoining Bland and Smyth Counties to deer hunt since there was no open season at that time in Tazewell County.   Perhaps realizing the error of our accessorial ways my father was very respectful and supportive of new hunting laws and exhibited sympathy for all wildlife.  Even though most farmers consider groundhogs nuisance, he forbid me to shoot on unless I prepared to be eaten or gave it to someone that would eat it.  My father reported that his coon dogs treed a cougar (he called it “panther”) about 1950 in Short Mountain of Tazewell County.  As he approached the tree the cougar jumped and eluded his dogs in some high rock cliffs.   I never ask the question as whether he would have killed it if he could, but I suspect he would have out of curiosity or have thought that he was somehow helping local sheep farmers protect their livelihood.  His passion for protection of wildlife likely had not developed to include such predators by this time.

These last few generations have witnessed dramatic change in wildlife, public attitudes, and a whole way of life.  If these ancestors could now look back they would realize that their fear of cougars was unjustified and what they once thought was an over-abundance of wildlife was so limited that they nearly extirpated God’s creations from the area.  Knowing their love and passions for the outdoors, I have no doubt that they would now embrace the reintroduction of cougars to the eastern United States.  My father had only once in a lifetime opportunity to see a wild cougar in the East, or perhaps that should that be rephrased to “It has been rare to even have a once in a lifetime opportunity to see a wild cougar in the East”.   In my 63 years I have had the rare privilege to see a cougar take down a deer in Bedford County, VA in 1995, but I still hold out hope that will not to be a once in a lifetime event for me, whether it be former captive transplant, migrant, or native.

  What a success story on management of deer, bear, and turkeys in Virginia!  In virtually all of Virginia land owners and valid license holders are allowed 3 wild turkeys per year, bears are more abundant than in the last 100 years, and deer are so abundant that the game department openly encourages hunters to harvest more does.   Many localities even hire sharpshooters to eliminate nuisance deer.  Credit Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries for public education about bears.  Thirty years ago the public would not have tolerated the current population of bears in Virginia.  Missing is the cougar, the public can be educated about them too. Cougar’s dinner table is now set with their favorite meal, deer.  The time is now for this generation to correct the mistakes of our ancestors and follow through on getting cougars re-introduced to the eastern states.  I feel it is my duty and obligation to contribute to the natural balance of our wildlife.   If wildlife management were compared to decorating a Christmas tree, re-introduction of cougars to the east would be like placing the angel on top of a tree in which its branches were already drooping with deer, bears and turkeys. 

WHY I WANT COUGARS BACK
  By Helen McGinnis (WV)  

The only time I've seen a wild mountain lion was in June 1962 when I was backpacking by myself up the Wooley Creek Trail, a 20 mile walk into the Marble Mountain Wilderness Area in northwestern California. I hadn't seen anyone all day. I camped in a clearing beside a substantial log cabin-locked-surrounded by several flimsy unlocked small cabins. I was cooking dinner over a campfire when motion at the edge of the clearing caught my eye. There, maybe 50 feet away, was the unmistakable heavy long tail and hindquarters of a mountain lion running back up the trail. Who knows how long it had been watching me before it got frightened and decided to retreat? 

I jumped up and down, cheered and hollered. I knew how rare it was see one of the cats. Then I began to get a bit worried. I ended up spending the night in one of the flimsy cabins, tying the door closed as best I could with a piece of cord. The next day I continued up the trail. From time to time within the first ½ mile or so I saw-or thought I saw-the cat's tracks in muddy places in the trail. And I kept hearing snarls, which always turned out to be jet planes overhead.

I don't think that event is what made me a cougar advocate, however. A native of California, I moved east in 1966. I soon found myself missing what I took for granted in that state. Not Jeffrey pines, manzanita bushes, valley oaks or other species native to that California, but protected wilderness and its implications. I became involved in a campaign to designate federal wilderness areas in the Monongahela National Forest of West Virginia; I'd taken those for granted in California. In the words of the Wilderness Act, a wilderness is an area "where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man." The key word is untrammeled, meaning unrestrained. In other words, where natural processes are allowed to occur instead of being managed to produce commodities, such as timber, grasslands for livestock grazing, or favored game species.

Around 1974 I attended a wilderness conference in Colorado. The keynote speaker - I can't remember his name but it might have been Sigurd Olsen - said that as far as he was concerned, a wilderness wasn't a wilderness without wolves. That made sense. When the white man arrived in the East, the top predators were Native Americans, wolves and cougars. Natives are no longer a factor. Wolves have limited potential for a comeback, because they interbreed with the newly arrived and abundant eastern coyotes and because they are conspicuous to human predators. The elusive cougar has a better chance. We already have them here in West Virginia, but they are likely exceedingly rare and may not exist as a stable breeding population. I want to know for certain that they are back, to cut down our excessive deer herd and for their own sake. So that young people can encounter a cougar as I once did, and whoop and jump for joy. So that there will be a tang of excitement in the out of doors that is absent when they are gone.

WHY I WANT COUGARS BACK
  By Paul Willison

Cougars, like wolves and bears, represent the wilderness in a tangible way.   Where cougars still walk, wilderness in at least some form must still exist. That is, for some reason, terribly important to me.    When I am alone on a high ridge overlooking the Manistee river valley, it is somehow very important to me that somewhere out there, a lion walks along another ridge, looking over the same river.

Why I Want Cougars Back
By Kevin Heyde (MO)

What a breath taking experience! A cougar, it was only 80 yards away, and totally unaware of my presence. It appeared instantly, stayed for a short while, and then vanished with an explosive, powerful leap. Cougars are the epitome of beauty, grace, and awesome deadly power. I have been blessed with two such encounters here in northern Missouri. The first one mentioned above was during deer season in the late 80’s, and the second one was treed by my coonhounds in the late 90’s. For any person who enjoys the outdoors, an experience like this is priceless. For me it was like winning the lottery. It is similar to having a wild deer feeding close enough to you that you can almost count its eyelashes. I wish everyone could have a similar experience with a cougar.

The most frequent thing I hear when confronting someone about the possibility of an increasing cougar population is, “We don’t want them around here! They will kill livestock, and people for that matter!” Coyotes have always been with us, and it is very rare that one turns into a problem animal. When they do become a problem, they are dealt with and the world goes on. Another thing I often hear against cougars is, “Just wait until they get over populated”. Through natures own design I think it would be very rare for them to over populate an area, they don’t reproduce rapidly. On the other hand, we have witnessed the bobcat becoming so plentiful in a short time period that they have had to open a season on them.

I feel that we need to work together to educate people about this wonderful creature. The more they know the less fear they will have. If they become a problem in the future then they can be dealt with accordingly. Let’s not find them guilty before they commit a crime. I have an idea that we may not get to have a say in the outcome. The sightings have increased dramatically in the past 10 years indicating that there might be a population increase whether we like it or not.

In local circles it used to be, “Hey, so and so thinks they saw a cougar”. Now it seems to be more common to hear, “Hey, I heard you saw one too.”  I doubt it is possible, but who knows, maybe in the future they will become common enough to reach game animal status. After all, ½ a century ago deer sightings were scoffed at in many places. Regardless of the size of their population, re-read the first paragraph and you will know, “Why I Want Cougars!” 

 "Why I Want Cougars Back"
by Joanne Horne (CT)

Did you hear the latest? No, of course not. I've become a "tracker", looking for evidence of a New England Cougar---supposedly, they are extinct around the NorthEast??? Not to me ...  I truly saw one the day of the big blackout August 14, 2003 at 8 a.m.

I was in the woods (about 30 yards from my back lawn where I hung my bird feeder and used to feed the deer corn)...when I see this animal coming from my neighbor's direction after jumping the stone wall that separates us. Walking right towards me. At first I thought it was a small deer (not a fawn)....and then it veered north away from me, just loping along, no fear of "this intruder" (me) in its space.  I still didn't know exactly what it was, but felt I would get a good look soon. I moved up the slight hill, just as it was climbing a downed oak tree & leaped up on the ledge to the small mountain behind my home on my property.

That's when I saw this very long fat tail (said to myself, gee that looks familiar); definitely feline...this tail almost hit the ground but curved up at the end. I was no further than 100 yards (an easy 9 iron for me!) away when I saw its tail.

I could have watched it longer (really forever!) as I was so thrilled at the recognition, but then I said to myself that's a MT. LION !!! I got a little scared. I slowly backed away and went into the house. Whew! What an awesome and spirit-lifting experience. What a thrill!

It has been over four weeks since that wonderful experience and I am still high. It was a life changing event and I'm quite enthused to prove the Mt. Lion does exist in the NorthEast, in Connecticut. But, there's a disappointing and sad feeling that accompanies the thrill -- the fact that I may never see another Cougar again---they are so rare.

Yes, I want wildness back. To quote Henry David Thoreau, "In wildness is the preservation of the world."

I want the Mt. Lions to thrive, breed and be where they belong. I want less forests cut down for subdivisions. I want to continue to think every morning when the sun rises in the beautiful eastern sky here in the western hills of Connecticut, that "Yes, the Mt. Lion exists, he has finished his nightly hunt, and survives another day".  I pray when the gorgeous sun sets in the west, that this magnificent wild cat is still out there beginning his journey of survival. Oh, how I wish everyone could experience true wildness so closely and not fear; just be as thrilled as I still am and will always be, about my close encounter with the elegant and beautiful New England Mt. Lion. Can it be in my lifetime?

Last Update Tuesday January 1, 2013 10:50 AM

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