Cougar confirmed in Gogebic County

A COUGAR SHOWED up on images from a landowner’s game camera northwest of Ironwood in Gogebic County. The Department of Natural Resources has confirmed the sighting, the 39th report of a cougar in Michigan since 2008. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources)

MARQUETTE — State wildlife officials have confirmed a mountain lion in Gogebic County, the state’s 39th cougar report since 2008.

The image was caught on a landowner’s trail camera July 7 northwest of Ironwood.

“This is very close to where a cougar was documented on a Deer Movement Study trail camera last year,” said Cody Norton, a large carnivore specialist with the bear and wolf program of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

A DNR wildlife biologist went the location Thursday. The image was reviewed and verified by the DNR’s cougar team, composed of wildlife biologists.

Of the 39 confirmed cougar reports, all but one has been in the Upper Peninsula. In some cases, these reports may include multiple sightings of the same cougar, not necessarily 39 individual animals.

So far, there remains no conclusive evidence of a Michigan breeding population of mountain lions. Cougars are an endangered species in Michigan protected by law.

“With an average of three confirmed cougar reports in each of the past 12 years, these animals remain rare in the Upper Peninsula,” Norton said.

That fact was illustrated last year with the image captured on the DNR game camera. It marked the first time the department had caught a cougar on more than three million game camera images collected since 2009.

DNR researchers use game cameras in its Quantifying Upper Peninsula Deer Movements and Abundance, predator-prey and bear studies. The deer movement study alone uses 50 game cameras in the western U.P., including the one in Ironwood Township that caught the images of the cougar at 7:15 p.m. Oct. 1, 2018.

Michigan cougar confirmations have been derived from trail camera video, photographs, tracks, scat or, in the case of two male cats, poached carcasses.

Previous genetic testing on tissue samples from the two poached cougars showed the two animals likely came from a population found generally in South Dakota, Wyoming and northwest Nebraska.

This research matched a hypothesis by DNR wildlife biologists that mountain lions documented in this region were males looking to establish territories, dispersing from a population west of Michigan and east of the Rocky Mountains.

Researchers investigated the potential population of origin for the two cougars using a database that included samples from cougar populations in South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Oregon and Florida.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cougars once were the most widely distributed land animal in the Western Hemisphere but have been eliminated from about two-thirds of their historic range.

At one time, cougars lived in every eastern state in a variety of habitats, including coastal marshes, mountains and forests. They were native to Michigan but were trapped and hunted from the state around the turn of the 20th century.

To learn more about cougars in Michigan, go to michigan.gov/cougars.