IN THE HISTORY OF COUGARS
- Cougars were indigenous to all 83 counties of Michigan.
1830 - 1930
- Cougars and other predators were hunted and trapped by the government and
citizens to accommodate the expanding human population.
1907 - The Sault St. Marie Evening News reports on a five-foot six-inch, 80
pound male cougar killed in a wolf trap near the Tahquamenon River in Chippewa
1914 - 1922
- N.A. Wood of the University of Michigan Museum summarizes historical accounts
of cougars in both the Upper and Lower Peninsula. The Michigan Conservation
Department begins to list cougars among predators vanished from the state.
1946 - 1950
- Based on cougar sighting reports since the 1930s, naturalists and reporters
begin to question whether cougars are actually gone from Michigan. In his 1948
scientific paper on the wildlife of the Huron Mountains in the Upper Peninsula,
R.H. Manville reports several sightings of cougars by "reliable
1950 - 1960
- Outdoor writers such as Frank Mainville continue to question whether the
periodic cougar sightings in Northern Michigan might be authentic. Many articles
about sightings of the "mystery cat" appear, especially around Sault
Ste. Marie and a few other areas of the Upper Peninsula. Michigan Department of
Conservation biologists quoted in newspaper articles claim the cougar is
1966 - Francis Opolka, then a conservation officer who later became Deputy
Director of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and another officer
observe a cougar near Cornell in Delta County while on patrol. A plaster cast of
the animal's track is made the next day and later verified as that of "a
large cat" by University of Michigan zoologists.
1970 - A few citizens, such as Ed Klima of Crystal Falls, begin to record
some of the more credible cougar sightings of Upper Peninsula residents.
1977 - David LaPointe, then Assist. Manager of the Porcupine Mountains State
Park and a wildlife biologist, writes an account of cougar tracks he found in
the Park in "Michigan Natural Resources Magazine," official
publication of the MDNR.
1981 - MDNR Forester Mike Zuidema, after seeing a cougar in the wild in
Michigan, begins compiling detailed records of cougar sightings, primarily in
the Central Upper Peninsula.
1984 – Blood-covered
bone fragments are recovered from a cougar reportedly shot in Menominee County.
DNR District Wildlife Biologist Dick Aartila forwards the sample to
Colorado State University where it is determined by high-resolution
electrophoresis to have “a positive identity to mountain lion.”
This finding is included in an official DNR “Necropsy Record” for the
incident, dated April 4, 1985.
1985 - 1990
- Various outdoor reporters continue to revisit the question of whether there
are wild cougars in Michigan. Most MDNR wildlife biologists quoted in articles
deny the existence of the cougars. This is a time of controversy.
1987 - The cougar is listed as an endangered species in Michigan by the
Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
1994 - The status of the cougar in Michigan is reviewed in a book edited by
Dr. David C. Evers, "Endangered and Threatened Wildlife of Michigan."
The publication is the result of a long-term project funded by the Nongame
Wildlife Fund of the Natural Heritage Program of the MDNR and was reviewed by no
fewer than six active and retired MDNR wildlife officials and many other
prominent mammalogists. Its highlights include these statements about cougars:
"Today, several areas throughout its former range, including northern
Michigan, may support small populations of cougars… There are also encouraging
signs that the Michigan cougar is not transient but occurs in a self-sustaining
population - based on several reliable sightings of adult cougars with
kittens… The existence of the cougar in Michigan has only been recently
confirmed. Whether individuals are from small, remnant populations that survived
human pressures through the last two centuries, transients from the western
Great Lakes Region, or privately released (or escaped) western subspecies, the
cougar needs to be recognized, protected, and studied in Michigan's Upper
1995 - Individual MDNR biologists continue to receive information about
cougars. Hair from a reported cougar collision with a car in Dickinson County is
found to match that of cougar. However, the biologist who performed the
microscopic examination files no report because he assumes the animal must be an
escaped or released pet, then discards the hair.
1997 - The Detroit Free Press publishes a very clear photograph of a cougar
in Alcona County taken by Jim Deutsch on the property of Larry Lippert. MDNR
personnel discredit the photo and the photographer.
1998 - The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy (MWC) starts to investigate the
many sightings and physical evidence of cougars in the Upper Peninsula at the
behest of Dan Robbins, a co-founder of the organization.
1998 - Longtime wildlife biologist Lawrence Robinson emails his supervisors
in the Lansing Headquarters to report his cougar sighting in Alcona County. His
report started, "This is a note I absolutely dread writing. I don't know if
Glen talked to you yet, but I had the terrible misfortune of seeing the Alcona
County cougar… I figured I had to fess up eventually. What do I do to get the
pictures and info to our division files without this getting out to the
media?" Robinson ended by saying, " By the way, the location is about
10 miles "as the cougar flies" from the Lippert property where the
picture was taken last summer."
1998 - Photographs of a cougar taken by James McCarthy in Schoolcraft County
near Seul Choix Point receive widespread coverage from television and print
2001 - The MWC publishes a technical report summarizing cougar sightings,
physical evidence, and related information. It concludes Michigan has a small,
and likely remnant, population of cougars.
2001 - 2002
- The MWC begins to release information from field studies launched in May of
2001. The Conservancy's field crew finds physical evidence, including tracks,
cougar-killed deer, and droppings (verified as cougar by DNA analysis) at
multiple sites in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. Two cougars are actually
seen in Roscommon and Benzie Counties during the fieldwork. A cougar skull is
found by a citizen in Chippewa County. The Conservancy's research is featured in
numerous newspaper and magazine articles. Most MDNR biologists quoted by the
media continue to deny cougars are found in Michigan or state that any cougars
actually detected must be escaped or released pets.
2002 - MDNR biologists determine that livestock were attacked by a large
cat, probably a cougar, at two properties in Kalkaska County. Permits are issued
to four landowners authorizing them to kill or trap a large, feral cat.
Television and newspaper articles document the incidents and question the
appropriateness of the agency's actions.
2003 - In response to public requests the MWC publishes a 54-page Field
Guide to Detecting Cougars in the Great Lakes Region. The Conservancy, having
received many requests from local police agencies, publishes a brochure entitled
"Living With Cougars In Michigan." The Conservancy provides training
on cougars for the statewide membership of the Michigan Association of Animal
- The National Park Service (NPS) posts warning signs at all of its trailheads
in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Titled "You are A Visitor In
Cougar Habitat," the sign emphasizes some important do's and don'ts if one
encounters a cougar. The NPS takes this action in response to a long history of
sightings by its own staff and citizens, research in the Lakeshore by the MWC,
and a close-encounter with a cougar by one of the Lakeshore's volunteers.
2003/04 - Traverse City Record Eagle and Bay City Times become first newspapers
to take editorial positions calling for the MDNR to acknowledge the wild cougar
population and research the predator so that Michigan citizens know how to be
safe in the outdoors.
- MWC releases videotape from Monroe County confirming (with absolute proof) two
cougars, 5 ½ and 6 ½ feet long. Taken on April 24, 2004 by Carol Stokes, the
video provides evidence suggestive of breeding by cougars. Two professional
video analysts conduct split-screen size comparisons and field tests to confirm
the size of the two cats.
- The MDNR releases DNA evidence that a motorist hit a cougar in southern
Menominee County. Hair taken from the car bumper by a State Trooper tests
positive for cougar. The location is just 7 miles from a cougar scat picked up
in 2002, and 11 miles from where blood covered bone fragments from a cougar were
recovered in 1984. The MDNR states the DNA confirms just one animal, not a
population, and that it was probably an escaped or released pet.
April 2005 – Just
two months after the DNR press release on the cougar struck by a car in
Menominee County, Doug Wagner, DNR wildlife biologist, appeared on “Ask the
DNR,” on Marquette Public Television. In
responding to a viewers question asking what was the estimate of Michigan’s
cougar population, Wagner responded, “ my estimate is zero.”
September 2, 2005 – A
detailed field investigation and necropsy by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy
confirm independent findings by Jackson County Animal Control Officers that a
cougar killed a 1,200 lb, 26-year-old horse in Parma Township.
Bite and claw marks on the horse, cougar tracks at the scene, and
sighting of a large cougar less than two miles away by the Township Supervisor
leave no doubt about the cause of death. Interviews
with local residents indicate previous reports of cougar sightings in the area
were ignored by county and state officials.
September 22, 2005 – Following
news reports of the cougar attack on the horse in Jackson County, Ray Rustem,
DNR Natural Heritage Program Supervisor is quoted in the Jackson Citizen Patriot
as saying: “There’s no way to track these animals; we have no expertise.
He’s on private property and we’d have to get permission from each
property owner.” This statement
reflects the DNR’s admission that they have no plans to conduct meaningful
field research on this endangered species.
December 2005 – A
detailed field investigation and necropsy by Berrien County Animal Control
Officers, a local veterinarian, and the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy confirm a
cougar injured a full-grown horse near Watervliet so severely it had to be
euthanized. The necropsy is
conducted in full view of more than 15 newspaper and television reporters and
police officers. Distinct claw and
bite marks on the horse indicate no animal but a cougar could have attacked the
horse. However, the DNR states the
horse was attacked by coyotes or dogs.
2005/06 – Jackson
Citizen Patriot, South Bend Tribune, St. Joseph Herald Palladium and Dowagiac
Daily News join the list of daily newspapers to take editorial positions on
Michigan cougars. The South Bend
Tribune asks DNR why they are intent on making fools of Michigan citizens.
January 2006 –
Berrien County became the first unit of government in modern history to declare
a public safety advisory cautioning residents to be aware that a cougar attacked
a horse in the county, and is potentially dangerous.
Three Michigan legislators host a public meeting in Berrien County about
cougar evidence in southwest Michigan.
April 2006 – The
American Midland Naturalist publishes a paper titled Detection and
Classification of Cougars in Michigan Using Low Copy DNA Sources by Dr. Brad
Swanson of Central Michigan University and Dr. Patrick Rusz of the Michigan
Wildlife Conservancy. The study
summarizes the first peer-reviewed, scientific evidence of multiple cougars East
of the Great Plains other than Florida. The
study provides DNA evidence of eight cougars in Delta, Dickinson, Houghton and
Menominee counties in the Upper Peninsula, and Alcona, Emmet, Presque Isle, and
Roscommon counties in the Lower Peninsula.
October 5, 2006 –
At a meeting of the state’s Natural Resources Commission (NRC) the DNR
acknowledges the peer-reviewed evidence of cougars in Michigan compiled by the
MWC and Central Michigan University. The
NRC and DNR also pledge to treat citizen reports and/or complaints of cougars
seriously. DNR Director Rebecca
Humphries apologizes for any disrespect shown to citizens reporting cougar
information in the past. However,
the DNR does not commit to developing a management plan for the cougar as
required by the Michigan Endangered Species Act.
October 25, 2006
– In a “White Paper” entitled Hiding The Cougar: Denying The East Its
Apex Predator, the MWC concludes that the state’s Natural Resources
Commission (NRC) and Department of Natural Resources (DNR) are violating the
Michigan Endangered Species Act, and charges that state officials have refused
to take steps to restore the cougar despite evidence that the big cats have long
been found in Michigan. The MWC’s
White Paper examines the arguments that DNR personnel have used to justify
ignoring cougar evidence, and contends the agency is still not “connecting the
dots” and complying with state law.
March 2007 – DNR
sends wildlife biologists to New Mexico for training in identification of cougar
– The DNR’s Wildlife Division
officially forms a four-person “cougar team” to investigate possible cougar
evidence. Members of the team
receive several days of special training in New Mexico.
The cougar team’s specific charges and procedures are not made public.
March 2008 - Mike
Zuidema, a retired DNR forester, who has played a major role in a long-term
study by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy of cougars in our state, finds a
clear set of cougar tracks in snow near Bark River and the Delta-Menominee
county-line. It is the same area
where scat (in 2002) and hair (in 2005) samples containing cougar DNA were
He uses photos of the tracks to convince two
DNR biologists, Craig Albright and Bill Rollo, to look at the actual tracks a
couple of days later. On March 13,
the DNR issues a press release that states in part:
“The photos were sent to the Wildlife
Division’s trained staff on cougars and national experts.
It was agreed that the tracks are characteristic of a cougar including
overall look, shape, and size.”
Michigan DNR wildlife biologists have attended intensive cougar training in New
Mexico over the last year and a half,” said Douglas Reeves, Wildlife Division
acting chief. “We feel confident
in their abilities and are comfortable with their assessment that these large
cat tracks most likely were made by a cougar.”
June 9, 2008
– U.S. Forest Service biologist, Janet Kudell-Eckstrom, finds a cougar track
while censusing Kirtland’s warblers near the base of the Stonington Peninsula
in the Upper Peninsula’s Delta County. DNR
Wildlife Technician, Bill Rollo, is called in and he follows the track set for
almost a quarter-mile. After other
biologists review Rollo’s photographs of the track, the DNR issues a press
release stating that the tracks appear to have been made by a cougar.
The incident marks the second time in a
three-month span that the DNR confirms cougar tracks in or very near one of the
study areas where the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy conducted field research in
July 2008 – An
ABC Investigative Team report, produced for Channel 7 in Chicago, highlights
widespread suspicion that wildlife officials are intentionally misleading the
public about cougars. The
five-minute story looks at cougar evidence in Michigan and Illinois and
considers whether cougars, such as one killed in Chicago in summer of 2008, are
coming from South Dakota as wildlife officials insist or are part of a resident,
breeding Great Lakes population.
I-Team correspondent Chuck Goudie starts the
report by stating, “There are questions about whether government officials
here in the Midwest are waging the great cougar cover-up by ignoring evidence
and disavowing a wild cat’s existence.”
The report includes interviews with state agency biologists, a retired
Michigan DNR forester who has seen cougars and their tracks in Delta County, the
executive director of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, and a township
supervisor from Jackson County, Michigan who saw a cougar.
September 18, 2008 – The
operators of a Jackson County boarding farm for horses discover severe
lacerations high on the back of a full-grown animal.
Dr. Robert Sray, a local veterinarian with 40 years of experience, uses
about 30 stitches to close one of the wounds.
He and Dr. Patrick J. Rusz, the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy’s
director of wildlife programs, both express no doubt that the horse was attacked
by a cougar. The attack is not
investigated by the DNR cougar team. They
cite obvious claw marks consistent with cougar in size, shape, and pattern.
Nevertheless, DNR officials (who have not visited the site) conclude on
September 24, that the horse was not attacked by a cougar, but rather,
“injured by something in the horse’s environment.”
“There is nothing sharp in the area where the horse was kept,” notes
Dr. Sray. “The horse was attacked
by a cougar.”
– The DNR’s cougar team confirms
12 more incidences in which cougar evidence, including tracks and photos are
found. The locations are in several
different counties throughout the U.P. One
cougar track set is found near Seul Choix Point in Schoolcraft County where the
MWC conducted its first cougar field study.
The tracks are within 100 yards of where MWC reported cougar evidence in
2001 and within three miles of the spot where James McCarthy photographed a
cougar in 1998.
The DNR’s cougar team also
does not confirm photos of cougar tracks taken near Munising in April 2010 even
though DNR personnel assisted in the photo-taking and reported that the tracks
appeared to be of a cougar. The
Cougar Team’s rationale is that inadequate scale is provided in the photos.
January 29, 2009 – The
Michigan Senate’s Agriculture and Bioeconomy Committee hears testimony that
cougars are found in both Peninsulas. Several
lawmakers at the unprecedented hearing question why the Michigan DNR is in
denial, despite confirmation of cougars by the agency’s own staff.
Committee Chairman, Senator Gerald Van Woerkom (Muskegon), tells the
media, “I believe we have to find out why the Department of Natural Resources
is in denial over this issue. The
evidence we saw in the hearing is very compelling and I believe everyone in the
room agrees there are cougars in the Lower Peninsula as well as the Upper
February 8, 2009 –
Bryan Hendricks posts an article in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette titled:
“Arkansas sportsmen: AGFC not lying, just avoiding furball over big cats.”
He explains that having served eight years with the game and fish
agencies in Missouri and Oklahoma, he was “privy to discussions about this
topic that the public will never hear. Basically,
agencies like the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission ignore or deny the presence
of mountain lions to avoid political and bureaucratic headaches.”
Hendricks concludes, “It’s the path of least resistance.”
March 3-4, 2009 – A
cougar is treed twice in Wisconsin’s Burnett County, about 80 miles from the
Michigan border. Wisconsin DNR
biologists shoot the animal, believed to be an adult, with a tranquilizer-filled
dart. However, the dosage is too low
and the cougar escapes. In addition
to photographing the cougar in the tree, the biologists collect blood, hair, and
other samples. Wisconsin DNR
furbearer specialist, John Olson, later tells reporters that analysis of the
photo suggests it was likely a young male, and implies its young age would
support a theory that young males from Western states are moving into Wisconsin.
September 2009 – The
Michigan Wildlife Conservancy releases results of an investigation that confirms
a cougar was photographed on Labor Day near the south shore of Glen Lake in
Leelanau County. The site is
adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore where the National Park
Service has had “cougar warning” signs at its trailheads since fall of 2003.
Dr. Patrick Rusz, director of wildlife
programs for the Wildlife Conservancy, takes measurements and photos of objects
of known size at the site on September 9 accompanied by a National Park Service
employee, and another witness. Dr.
Rusz then analyzes the photos of Dr. Jerome Wiater in consultation with forensic
photography experts and concludes that the animal had the profile and coloration
of a cougar and was too large to be a house cat.
Specifically, he finds that the cat was likely more than 30 inches long
from nose to end of body. The DNR
issues no formal findings about the photos, but a DNR conservation officer tells
news reporters the animal was a housecat.
November 4, 2009 –
The Michigan DNR announces it had verified in fall of 2009 two sets of cougar
tracks—near Detour in Chippewa County and near Gulliver in Schoolcraft
County—and confirmed the location of a cougar photo in Bruce Township in
Chippewa County. In the same press
release, the DNR mentions for the first time a cougar track verification in
September 2008 on Huron Mountain Club property in northern Marquette County.
The Gulliver track was in an area where the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy
found evidence of one or more cougars in 2001-2004.
The Conservancy had also reported in 2001-2004 on compelling cougar
evidence in the same areas of Chippewa and Marquette Counties.
This would logically point to the presence of resident cougars in
Michigan; however, the DNR continues to insist the animals must be non-breeding,
transient cougars wandering in from South Dakota.
June 21, 2010 –
The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (DNRE) issues a
press release announcing that DNRE wildlife biologists confirmed a trail camera
photo of a cougar in Menominee County. The
DNRE calls it the first photo evidence of a cougar in that county.
However, other cougar evidence was confirmed in Menominee County by
forensic/DNA evidence in 1984 and 2004. The
DNRE continues to imply the animals must be transients from South Dakota.
– The DNR releases trail camera
photos, taken in Ontonogan, Houghton and Baraga Counties, of a cougar with a
working radio collar. However, the
origins of the cougar and collar are not determined.
– The DNR confirms the authenticity
of photos of three more cougars, in Baraga and Marquette Counties.
One of the photos was taken on June 1 in southern Marquette County and
was first released by the MWC. The
other Marquette County photo was taken on July 18 at a site about 50 miles to
the north. Despite 17 cougar
verifications in the four years since its cougar team was formed, the DNR
continues to claim it had no evidence of a population.
A DNR spokesperson says the cougars verified are all wandering males from
Western states. The DNR claims it
has never verified any evidence of a cougar in the Lower Peninsula.