DNR continues dead cougar investigation

DNR continues dead cougar investigation

MARQUETTE — Michigan Department of Natural Resources conservation officers are continuing their investigation into the finding of a dead mountain lion earlier this month in Dickinson County, about 4 miles north of Iron Mountain.

The dead male cougar, or mountain lion, was discovered Feb. 1 by a woman walking her dog. She then contacted the DNR. Conservation officers investigating the incident said the animal had been dumped near the intersection of Johnson Road and Dickinson County Road 607 in Breitung Township.

The carcass of the cougar has been sent to the DNR’s Wildlife Disease Laboratory in Lansing where a necropsy, or animal autopsy, will be performed to determine the cause of death.

“When we inspected the cougar, we found it had been in a snare,” said Lt. Pete Wright, of the DNR’s Customer Service Center in Marquette. “This was later confirmed by X-rays.”

Under state regulations, snares are lawful for the taking of fox and coyotes on private land from Jan. 1 through March 1.

“There are numerous criteria in place that the trapper must follow when setting snares, such as diameter of snare loop, maximum height placement of loop, stops, swivels and relaxing locks,” Wright said. “In addition, any protected species found dead, or that dies while getting released, must be tagged with an incidental seal and then transported in an open manner to the nearest DNR office and surrendered. That clearly did not happen in this particular case.”

Cougars are listed as endangered species in Michigan and are protected by state law.

Wright said the X-rays did not show the presence of any lead to indicate the cougar had been shot.

“I’m confident that at some point we will be able to identify the person who snared the cougar and then begin to make the determination as to whether it was simply an incidental catch or directly targeted and poached,” Wright said.

According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, cougars were once 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 extirpated from the state around the turn of the 20th century.

Thirteen western states allow cougar hunting and the North American cougar is listed there as a game species.

“We believe the occasional Upper Peninsula confirmations are transient males likely from the Dakotas,” said Kevin Swanson, a DNR wildlife management specialist in Marquette.

The DNR has confirmed 33 cougar reports in the Upper Peninsula since 2008, but so far there remains no evidence of a breeding population.

All of Michigan’s DNR-verified cougar reports have been in the Upper Peninsula, from 12 of the region’s 15 counties. One of those reports originated in Dickinson County. A Sept. 15, 2015, color image of a cougar was photographed on a trail camera and later verified by the DNR.

The DNR’s Report All Poaching hotline offers money to tipsters. Rewards vary in amount depending on the incident being investigated and the information provided.

Anyone with information concerning this case can contact Lt. Pete Wright at 906-226-1328 or call the RAP hotline at 1-800-292-7800. Those providing tips may remain anonymous.

To learn more about cougars in Michigan, visit www.michigan.gov/cougars.