Friday, February 27, 2009
Cougar and deer top Conservation Coffee discussion
Pat Huckery, Massachusetts Division of Fish and Wildlife (MassWildlife) Eastern Region Administrator, chose to talk about the elusive eastern cougar (also known as mountain lion) on February 10 in her fourth appearance as guest speaker at a Conservation Commission (ConsCom) breakfast meeting. Although Carlisle Conservation Administrator Sylvia Willard says two cougar sightings were reported in Carlisle in late fall, these were not verified, and Huckery said that there have been no documented sightings in Eastern Massachusetts in recent times.
The eastern cougar is a federally endangered species. Its habitat in this area is back, yet “it is so rare and so secretive we just can’t find out anything about them,” according to Huckery. MassWildlife’s best evidence that cougars may indeed be in the area is a cache of food and some scat located some ten years ago.
Huckery said that MassWildlife would welcome evidence verifying cougar presence, such as a photograph, preferably showing the whole body, along with a concrete reference point, such as a tree or building. Tracks, not a single track which “is fairly useless,” but a set of prints which would show the animal’s big stride is also good documentation. A cache of food with appropriate prey species, scat as well as road-kill-evidence also provides acceptable documentation.
Huckery asks “Why aren’t they here?” and says the nearest reproducing populations of this cougar are in Florida and Canada. A reproducing population would be about 100 individuals. MassWildlife has considered reintroducing the species but has no definite plan to do so at this time; if they were reintroduced it would be a public process, as it was with wolves.
Discussion of wildlife ranged from the seemingly non-existent cougars to ubiquitous deer and the state’s deer population. Huckery’s understated report that “it is difficult to control” the deer herd is illustrated by a few figures which illustrate the scale of the problem. MassWildlife considers ten deer/square mile a “controlled” deer herd. Catherine Williams of the Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs says the goal is six to eight per square mile. Yet Crane Beach recently registered 100 per square mile and Nantucket has recorded 60-80 per square mile. The Carlisle deer population is believed to vary from ten to 35 per square mile.
Attempts to control deer herd size include managed hunting, which is what was used in Ipswich to reduce the herd density to ten per square mile. Nantucket decreased its herd size by extending the hunting season, which is calibrated to the deer’s reproductive season.
Twelve to 15 deer have been legally harvested in Carlisle this year. Other towns with larger deer populations have issued permits for antlerless deer; about 11,000 such permits have been granted in the state. Efforts to control large deer herds are usually influenced by the prevalence of Lyme disease. Linda Fantasia, Carlisle Board of Health Administrator, says that Carlisle had 64 reported cases of Lyme disease last year.
Following a vigorous discussion about deer and cougars, the group made a short inventory of other animals seen in the suburban environment. Coyotes are breeding now; the yipping we hear is their way of communicating to each other, keeping the family together.
Bears “seem to be mating” near the New Hampshire border; the moose population is growing and the range is expanding to Connecticut; they are “pretty common” in Rhode Island.
The bobcat population is thriving in Massachusetts, so much so that there is a season for trapping and hunting bobcats, with 50 permits issued a year. Erik Amati, a wildlife biologist who came to the meeting with Huckery, said that 48 of the 50 allowable permits for hunting bobcats have already been issued. ∆
© 2009 The