Few cougar reports in Wisconsin prove trueLast Saturday morning, we attended a seminar on “Cougars in Wisconsin.” We met up with two other couples that graduated from high school with me and drove over to listen to the talk. This was the third in a series of informative lectures sponsored by the St. Croix River Fund and held at the St. Croix River Visitors Center in St. Croix Falls.
By: By Mike Reiter, New Richmond News
Last Saturday morning, we attended a seminar on “Cougars in Wisconsin.”
We met up with two other couples that graduated from high school with me and drove over to listen to the talk. This was the third in a series of informative lectures sponsored by the St. Croix River Fund and held at the St. Croix River Visitors Center in St. Croix Falls. The guest speaker was Adrian Wydeven, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources mammal ecologist. Adrian is an exceptional speaker and really knows his “stuff.”
Cougars weigh in at 77 to 220 pounds with the males weighing about 50 percent more than the females. They can be 70 to 105 inches in length, including their tails. They are very solitary most of the time. They feed primarily on deer, beaver and are one of the very few predators that will take on a porcupine rivaling the fisher in this capacity.
They compete with wolves, and an adult male cougar can take down 36 to 38 deer each year. A female with cubs can consume up to 110 deer each year making them a very efficient predator. The cubs stay with the mom for a year and a half and she is very protective. The adult male will kill the cubs if the opportunity presents itself.
Cougars were present in the southern two-thirds of Wisconsin at the time of early settlement but disappeared around 1910. Presently the western third of the United States, ending roughly around the western side of the Dakotas, and south is still considered cougar breeding range.
Starting back in 1991, Wisconsin set up an information system that tracked reports of rare mammals. Cougar sightings are set up in this system and a “possible/probably” ranking is set after all the available data is analyzed. It was only in 2008 that the first confirmed cougar sighted was verified in the state. Currently, around 200 sightings a year are reported.
Each cougar report is carefully analyzed and determinations are made from personal interviews, photos, tracks and physical evidence. When biological samples can be obtained, they are analyzed for DNA. The DNA is an amazing tool and can determine the species and sex of the animal and where it came from.
Cougars, that were potential pets and are released or have escaped into the wild, have a mixture of North and South American cougar DNA. Migrants from the western states would only have the North American genotype. Individual animals can also be tracked on their journeys by utilizing this technique.
After all is said and done, very few cougar reports in Wisconsin can be confirmed. The vast majority are cases of mistaken identity or even hoaxes. Careful review of photos, when put into the proper perspective and properly analyzed, have turned out to be that of bobcat, gray fox, fisher or even an occasional house cat. Reported cougar tracks have turned out to be that of dogs, coyotes or even bear. Many internet photos have been photo shopped or originated is western states. Even taxidermist mounts have been cleverly staged to appear as the real deal.
When cougar’s presence have been verified, many different sightings usually come in over wide areas. The extensive use of trail cams has helped greatly in tracking their movement.
Since the rare mammal sighting information was set up in 1991, only six different sightings of this big cat can be verified, however.
In 2009, there was a verified cougar report that originated in Minnesota. The animal crossed the St Croix River into Wisconsin. Cougars are known to be very good swimmers. This cat was called the “St. Croix Cougar” and Harvey Halvorsen, our DNR biologist, helped track it across St. Croix and Dunn counties.
Its journey was followed around Wisconsin, over to Michigan, up into Canada, back down into the United States through New York and into Connecticut where it was hit by a car and killed in 2011. Through DNA determinations it was shown to be the same animal. It probably started its trek in the Black Hills of South Dakota. It was estimated to have traveled between 1,600 and 1,800 miles in its journey to find a mate.
All the cougars that have traveled into Wisconsin and could be sexed were determined to be male animals. As Adrian so adeptly put it, “These cougars were looking for love in all the wrong places!” Our St. Croix Cougar has been touted to have set the record for distance traveled for any single mammal.
As time goes on and cougar numbers increase in the cougar breeding areas west of Wisconsin, incidence of sightings will increase in our state as the animals seek new opportunities. Some folks feel that the DNR are downplaying the actual number of Wisconsin cougars, however. There is no reason for them to do that. Their goal is to collect good reliable data to make solid decisions on what can and should be done with this interesting feline.
The next scheduled speaker is Craig Thompson, from the WDNR who will talk on “Knee Deep in Monkeys, Protecting Tropical Forests for Our Migratory Birds.” The talk is set for Saturday, April 14, at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. to be held at the St. Croix River Visitors Center, 401 North Hamilton St., St. Croix Falls. This should be another good one.
By Tom Kerr
With the early arrival of spring, many migrating waterfowl are showing up on local Waterfowl Production Areas.
WPAs are purchased with federal duck stamp dollars and provide important breeding habitat for many local species of waterfowl including mallards, blue winged teal, wood ducks and hooded mergansers. Many other species such as canvasbacks, ring necked ducks, redheads, American mergansers, pintails and wigeon are merely stopping over on area wetlands to fuel up before continuing their journey north.
During migration, waterfowl need to re-fuel constantly to maintain their fat reserves, which are essential to successful reproduction and egg laying. Local wetlands provide easy access to food in the form of seeds and invertebrates. Hens that arrive on the breeding grounds in good condition are more likely to be able to produce a clutch of eggs.
In the last week, there have been many ducks using Erickson WPA, which is located about a mile east of State Highway 65 on State Highway 64. Last year’s drought conditions created mud flats which favored the growth of seed producing annual plants such as beggar’s ticks and smartweed. These plants produce tons of seed which will lay dormant in the mud until the next drought.
The late snow and subsequent rains in March have flooded these basins creating feeding areas for migrating waterfowl. Since birds may only spend a day or two at these wetlands, check out our Facebook site for up to date information on recent sightings on local WPAs.
For more information on the St. Croix Wetland Management District and a map of the Erickson WPA, check out our website at ww.fws.gov/midwest/stcroix/.
Warden Paul’s Corner
Turkey youth hunt
The annual spring Wisconsin Youth Turkey Hunt is set for April 7-8. The hunt is intended to give youth hunters (both residents and non-residents) an opportunity to hunt turkeys and gain valuable hunting experience. The youth hunt occurs each year, and is held the weekend prior to the opening Wednesday of the spring turkey season.
Youth ages 12-15 who have successfully completed a hunter education program and have purchased a 2011 spring turkey license, 2012 turkey stamp, and have a valid carcass tag for spring 2012 may participate in the two-day youth hunt.
Youth ages 10 and 11 or youth 12 through 15 years of age who do not possess a hunter education certificate but who still have a current valid 2012 turkey license, stamp, and permit may participate if “mentored” by a qualified adult under the new mentored hunting program.
Participants may only hunt in the turkey management zone for which their permit was issued, and may only harvest one bearded or male turkey total during the youth hunt. Youth who do not fill their tags, or who have purchased extra tags over-the-counter, may still use any remaining unused tags not filled during the special youth hunt during the original time period and zone for which the tags were issued.
A full set of regulations for the youth hunt is available in the 2010 Small Game Regulations. More information, including the criteria for a qualified adult mentor, can be found on the youth turkey hunting page of the DNR website.
For any questions or to report a violation, call Warden Paul Sickman at 715-684-2914, ext. 120.