By Pat Maurer
A copy of a blog entitled “Here Kitty, kitty!” accompanied by an anonymous letter to the editor shows a trail camera photo of a huge bobcat taken in western Clare County in February of 2010, and raises the question again of whether cougars might also be found here.
So far no cougar sightings have been verified in the Lower Peninsula, although there have been a few unverified “sightings” in the northern Lower Peninsula.
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, originally were native to Michigan but were thought to have been extirpated around the turn of the last century. The last known wild cougar taken in Michigan was killed near Newberry in 1906.
DNR Wildlife Division staff has now verified the presence of cougars in the Upper Peninsula 20 times since 2008. To date, the DNR has confirmed 11 photos, eight separate sets of tracks, and one trail camera video from 10 Upper Peninsula counties: Baraga, Chippewa, Delta, Houghton, Keweenaw, Mackinac, Marquette, Menominee, Ontonagon and Schoolcraft.
Michigan Wildlife Conservancy researchers have found cougar DNA in scat (feces) from eight counties: Dickinson, Menominee, Delta, Emmet, Presque Isle, Alcona, Roscommon, and Houghton. The conservancy also has documented evidence of cougars from several other sites, including tracks, photos, videotape, and sightings by researchers.
Eleven unverified cougar sightings have been reported in Clare County between 2003 and 2008.
The blog author, “Mike” said he had seen a trail cam picture of a juvenile mountain lion in the same area as other trail cam pictures of bear and bobcat, and that he had asked a local hunter, “Scott,” to share a picture with him of the lion.
“Although cougar sightings are regularly reported, verification is often difficult,” the DNR says, “due in part to a lack of physical evidence. Characteristic evidence of cougars include tracks – which are about 3 inches long by 3 1/2 inches wide and typically show no claw marks – and suspicious kill sites, such as deer carcasses that are largely intact and buried with sticks and debris.”
Mike reported that “Scott hunts coyote and bobcats during the winter months, after deer season. He hunts in a huge swamp, not far from Clare.”
The trapping season for bobcats begins December 1 and runs through February 1. Bobcat hunting is allowed between January1 and February1 or January 1 and March 1 depending on the area according to information on the DNR website.
It is not known if recent arrests and sentencing for “poaching” are related to the website “blog” information although that is what the author of the anonymous letter claimed, but three Clare County men were recently sentenced in Isabella County for “wildlife conservation – taking a protected animal.” In early November, Kenneth E. Bombalski, 64, of Farwell, was fined $685 and costs. Ryan C. Higgins, 31, of Harrison was given a $1,000 fine and costs. Scott D. Higgins, 55 of Farwell was given an $850 fine and costs and WC/animal: an $850 fine and costs. The specific protected animals related to the charges were not specified.
According to the Department of Natural Resources website Eagles, hawks, owls, spruce grouse, flying squirrels, wolverines, wolves, lynx, moose, cougars, cub bears and sow bears accompanied by cubs are protected wildlife and may not be taken at any time. All nongame birds are protected, except starlings, house sparrows and feral pigeons.