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Letting the cat out of the bag

Notes from the North Woods

The answer is, “Not very likely!” Especially if the question is posed to any of the many sportsman, hikers, skiers, paddlers and others who frequent the region’s vast backcountry.

Whether the question is posed in a local barroom, at the Post Office or at a Board Meeting, the mention of mountain lions will always get the stories flying. However, most of the biologists I’ve spoken with rank the odds of cougars establishing a naturally occurring breeding population in the Adirondacks to be about as likely as finding a Big Foot anywhere north of Fort Ann.

While rumors of big cats continue to thrive, the most commonly circulated conspiracy theory generally involves “an unknown environmental advocacy group from out of the state that has secretly been releasing cougars across the park with DEC’s approval. “ In order to spice things up a bit, the story occasionally includes details about the secretly released cougars being outfitted with radio collars, the possession of which brings serious penalties. The stories range somewhere between The Twilight Zone and The X Files on the scale of believability. They are simply too far fetched even for an old angler who’s prone to exaggeration.

While such tales of secret releases and radio collars are widely recognized as a hoax, a recent press release from the West Virginia based, Cougar Rewilding Foundation appears to blur the line between fact and fiction, especially since it comes from an ‘out of state, environmental advocacy group.”

The press release, which details research conducted by ecologist Dr. John Laundré’, a professor at SUNY Oswego is titled The Feasibility of the Northeastern USA Supporting the Return of Cougars. The study concludes that the Adirondack region is capable of supporting an estimated 150 to 350 wild cougars. Thirty years ago everyone thought cougars needed to live in the most remote places," explains Laundré in the release. “But they’ve demonstrated that they are as adaptable as coyotes."

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net.

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