For Immediate Release, January 8, 2013
Contact: Dr. John Laundre’, SUNY Oswego, (315).529.3759
Christopher Spatz, Cougar Rewilding Foundation, (845).377.1034
Adirondack Park Could Support 350 Cougars
Mountain Lions Would Restore Biodiversity to Ancestral Home
CAMBRIDGE, Eng. – Re-evaluating a thirty year-old Adirondack cougar habitat study, the international conservation journal Oryx today published pioneering ecologist Dr. John Laundré’s The Feasibility of the Northeastern USA Supporting the Return of the Cougar, in which the SUNY Oswego professor concludes that the giant New York State Forest Preserve can support from 150 – 350 of the big cats. Citing the cougar’s successful return to the urban interface of western cities – much like the black bear’s come-back in New Jersey – and comparing an Adirondack recovery to similarly developed habitats in the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Big Cypress National Preserve of southern Florida, Laundré challenges a 1981 study by SUNY Environmental Science and Forestry emeritus biologist Rainer Brocke who concluded that road-density would hinder any chance of cougar recovery to the 6 million-acre Adirondacks.
“Thirty years ago everyone thought cougars needed to live in the most remote places,” saidLaundré, who studied the Western Hemisphere’s second largest cat for twenty years in Idaho and Mexico, “but they’ve demonstrated that they are as adaptable as coyotes.” The Cougar Rewilding Foundation’s Vice President emphasized that a small population of cougars lives safely in the Santa Monica Mountains of West Los Angeles north of Malibu. “There’s even a young, radio-collared male wandering around LA’s Griffith Park,” Laundré noted. “That’s like taking up residence in Van Cortland Park in the Bronx.”
Market hunting of prey like white-tailed deer nearly to extirpation, combined with state-sponsored eradication programs, wiped out the cougar in the Adirondacks by the end of the 19th century. White-tails have recovered to super-saturation, critically debilitating forest regeneration throughout the state, threatening ecosystem arrest highlighted in the NYSDEC’s 2010 Strategic Plan for State Forest Management. In landmark research, Laundré and colleagues were the first to identify how predator presence changes prey browsing behavior in Yellowstone when wolves were restored to the national park in 1995, triggering cascades of plant and wildlife recovery: big predators protect ecosystem biodiversity.
“Cougars hunt at the edges of rivers and in forests that provide lots of cover, “ says the author of 2012’s Phantoms of the Prairie: The Return of Cougars to the Midwest. “Deer learn where they are in most danger from predators, which self-restricts where they feed; plants start coming back that the deer would normally just vacuum up.” Laundré’s groundbreaking Yellowstone study and corroborating research have found that, “wolves and cougars are, in a sense, shepherds of these wild herds of deer, keeping them from overgrazing the forest.”
Considering years of cougar predation studies, his Adirondack analysis suggests that cougars annually would take about 8% of the forest preserve’s estimated 50,000 – 80,000 white-tailed deer, a number easily sustainable in conjunction with the annual hunter harvest and wildlife management protocols.
“Up to 80% of the public in regional and national surveys support cougar restorations,” Laundré concluded. “If 5,000 cougars can co-exist with 37 million people in California, then the cougar’s ancestral home, our nation’s first wilderness, the Adirondacks, can certainly support them.”
John’s complete paper here.