A few cougars definitely live in Arkansas. Check out the relevant confirmation map posted by the Cougar Network, http://www.cougarnet.org/southeast.html . Here you will find a link to a scientific article on Arkansas confirmations.
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
February 8, 2009
ARKANSAS SPORTSMAN : AGFC not lying, just avoiding furball over big cats
Many Arkansans believe, with good reason, that mountain lions live in Arkansas, and they don’t understand why the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission won’t admit it.
Perhaps I can explain. Having served eight years with the game and fish agencies in Missouri and Oklahoma, both of which also suffer from Acute Mountain Lion Denial Syndrome, I was privy to discussions about this topic that the public will never hear. Basically, agencies like the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission ignore or deny the presence of mountain lions to avoid huge political and bureaucratic headaches.
First, understand that there is a distinction between wild mountain lions and feral mountain lions. One of my buddies from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s high-rent district recently had a little fun with one of my columns that pointed out that methamphetamine makers in the Missouri Ozarks often keep mountain lions to discourage unwanted visitors, and to distract law enforcement personnel while they destroy evidence. When the meth chefs go to jail, their friends and family can’t care for the cats, so they turn them loose. The area is sparsely populated, heavily forested and rich with deer, so it’s ideal for big cats. In this way, the illegal drug trade has been partly responsible for reintroducing mountain lions to the Ozarks. That’s not just an amusing theory, it’s a fact.
The same hospitable conditions have also allowed wild mountain lions to repopulate parts of some states, including Arkansas. For years, the Missouri Department of Conservation denied the existence of wild mountain lions in Missouri until a car killed a wild cougar on U.S. 54 near Fulton, Mo. Then, the MDC’s response was: “Well, we had ONE wild mountain lion, but not anymore.”
That is, until another got run over on I-70, near Kansas City. Then it was: “Well, we had TWO, but not anymore.”
I recently relived this experience with my old boss at the MDC, Dan Witter, one of the most capable, most competent and most honorable men I’ve ever known. The Fulton cat lived on Witter’s property. He’d seen its tracks and even found caches of deer it had killed. This contradicted the MDC’s insistence that the cat was transient, on its way from somewhere else to somewhere else.
Then, Witter threw out this nugget. The late Dave Hamilton, head of the MDC’s mountain lion response team, told him that the cat was a young male displaced from Arkansas that had come north to establish its territory.
One of my best friends at the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation was a fellow named Paul Balkenbush. Back then, he was the ODWC’s streams biologist, but now he’s the southeast region fisheries supervisor. Paul hunted a lot, and he told me he’d seen mountain lions in the wilds of southeastern Oklahoma. I trust a biologist knows a cougar from a bobcat.
So, why won’t the AGFC admit we have mountain lions? For the same reason the other states won’t. If the AGFC acknowledges a sustainable population of wild mountain lions, it will be compelled to draft a management plan for mountain lions. That means the agency will have to devote money and manpower to compile a population estimate, and then hold meetings to get public input for management options.
By virtue of its conservation ethic, a management plan generally seeks to increase or maintain a stable population of the subject species. Deer and turkey hunters wouldn’t like that, and livestock farmers wouldn’t tolerate it. They’d raise Cain with the Legislature, they’d litigate, and they’d demand the AGFC pay them for the cattle, goats, and sheep they believe mountain lions killed.
Of course, a management plan can focus on eradicating mountain lions, but many Arkansans and animal welfare advocacy groups would not tolerate that, either. They would pressure the Legislature, they’d litigate, and they’d conduct smear campaigns against hunters, just as they’ve done against dove hunters in Ohio and bear hunters in New Jersey. It would pit Arkansans against each other in a way that would generate permanent animosity.
And, can you imagine the outcry that would erupt if a mountain lion killed or injured someone, especially a child, as a managed species?
The biologist or division chief that delivers that headache to the Commission would soon be looking for another job.
Therefore, the AGFC avoids the hassle altogether by insisting that there are no wild mountain lions in Arkansas. It’s not a coverup. It’s simply the path of least resistance.