COPIED FROM THE SOUTH BEND TRIBUNE,
OCTOBER 18, 2006
It's about time.
Officials of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources at last are taking seriously the concerns of Berrien County residents who've reported cougar sightings. The department, per instructions of its policy board, the Michigan Natural Resources Commission, will develop policies and a public information effort regarding cougars.Most southwestern Michigan residents never will have an up-close cougar encounter. But there have been many sightings.
Scat and hair tests for DNA have backed up reports. And there was a fatal attack on a horse last November in Watervliet that was attributed to a cougar.Yet DNR officials barely choked back their skepticism when residents lined up to tell their stories. Any cougars in the area probably would be released or escaped exotic "pets," they said, not naturally occurring. That is, there wouldn't be a breeding population.
We question that. But even if it is the case, residents don't care what cougars do in their private lives. If there's a 200-pound, eight-foot predator in the neighborhod, it's the DNR's responsibility to make sure people have the information they need to coexist with it. The Berrien County Board of Commissioners concurred this month when it sent a letter the Michigan Department of Natural Resources urging the DNR to seriously investigate cougar sightings and address the public's concern.Presumably the new DNR guidelines will tell personnel to not say, "Are you sure it wasn't just a golden retriever or a house cat?" That's the sort of responses that got residents' backs up.
The DNR also is sending three staff members to New Mexico to learn about cougars from biologists who are experts on the species. They may learn that the return of the cougar is not a preposterous notion at all. The big cats once were common in this region but were wiped out in 1906, at the same time whitetail deer -- treated at the time like vermin -- had nearly been eradicated.Deer are cougar "fast food." The fact that there now are nearly a million deer in Michigan, due to DNR population manipulation, means that the region could be cougar heaven.
Cougars have become more common east of the Mississippi River, extending their range because of the abundance of deer.
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