SKANEE - The Department of Natural Resources has confirmed the presence of a cougar in Baraga County. A photo of the animal was taken by Baraga County resident Fred Nault near Skanee on May 5.
DNR Wildlife Division staff were contacted by Nault and visited the property May 15, to verify the location of the camera.
"This is the 15th time we have verified the presence of a cougar in the Upper Peninsula since our first confirmation in 2008," said DNR Wildlife Biologist Adam Bump, who is a member of the Department's specially-trained cougar team. "This is the first confirmation in 2012, and the first verified photo of a cougar taken in person and not by a remote camera."
The cougar was spotted crossing a road near Skanee by Nault, who had a camera on him and was able to take a photo before the animal fled into the woods.
A handful of cougar photos and tracks were also verified by the DNR in the fall and winter of 2011. Tracks and photos were confirmed in Ontonagon and Baraga counties, a photo was verified in Houghton County, and tracks were confirmed in Keweenaw County.
The cougar confirmed in Ontonagon, Houghton and Keweenaw counties had a radio-collar, while the cougar verified in Baraga County did not have a collar. The timing and locations of the photos and tracks suggests there were at least two cougars in the western Upper Peninsula in December 2011.
The DNR has now verified eight separate sets of cougar tracks and seven separate photos in the Upper Peninsula since 2008. The last confirmed wild cougar in Michigan prior to 2008 was an animal killed near Newberry in 1906.
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, were native to Michigan, but disappeared from the state around the turn of the last century. Established cougar populations are found as close to Michigan as North and South Dakota, and transient cougars dispersing from these areas have been known to travel hundreds of miles in search of new territory.
Although cougar sightings are regularly reported, verification is often difficult, due in part to a lack of physical evidence. Characteristic evidence of cougars include tracks - which are about three inches long by three and a half 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.
Reports of cougar tracks and other evidence should be made to a local DNR office or by submitting the sighting on the DNR's online reporting form at www.michigan.gov/ cougars. If an emergency situation exists, call the department's 24-hour Report All Poaching line at 800-292-7800. Preserving evidence such as tracks, scat and cached kills greatly improves the chances that a reported sighting may be verified by DNR wildlife staff.
Wildlife biologists on the DNR's cougar team investigate evidence that is reported or submitted, and may visit sites to verify the location and collect additional information. The team then evaluates the collected information and decides whether the presence of cougars can be confirmed.
Cougars are classified as an endangered species in Michigan. It is unlawful to kill, harass or otherwise harm a cougar, except in the immediate defense of human life. To learn more about cougars and how to identify their tracks, go to www.michigan.gov/ cougars.