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Kill Cougars to Grow More Deer?

Don’t you think that if you’re going to go out and kill cougars, you should know some basic biology and facts about your quarry?

I had an upsetting and disheartening encounter today with some ‘cat’ hunters. For the last week I’ve been walking a forest service road that goes up a wide valley. Yesterday I saw snowmobile tracks. This morning, two young men were returning on this road from the treed area higher up. They were carrying a rack from a large bull elk on their snowmobiles. The elk had been killed about a mile up the road. Elk season is closed, so this was either a winter kill or a predator kill. It was their tracks I saw yesterday, where they’d taken a snowmobile looking for cat tracks. They spotted the kill along the roadside, and saw cougar tracks feeding on it. This morning they returned with their dogs, treed the cat, while their sister shot the young female cougar.

I ran into these two young men and spoke with them for a while. They were pleasant, but seemed to know nothing about mountain lions, and from the course of my conversation, they certainly didn’t respect the animal. Our conversation went something like this:

“You know” I told them, “when you kill one female, you’ve killed several other cats as well, because females are either traveling with kittens, pregnant, or in heat.”

“We tracked her for two days so she had no kittens.”

(Note: two days is an exaggeration. I was up that road at 11 a.m. yesterday and saw the snowmobile had been up and back already. Then they were out this morning when they killed the cat)

Mountain Lion or Cougar mom with young cubs, Western U.S.

“It’s true,” I replied. “She could be a young disperser, but she also might have young kittens with her that she’s stashed.”

“No, she couldn’t have had kittens. There were no other tracks around this elk.”

“Kittens eight weeks and younger stay at a den site while the mother hunts and goes back to them to nurse.”

“But lions only give birth in September. It’s January now.” One of the young hunters replied.

“Nope.” I told him.” They can give birth at any time of the year. Once their kittens disperse they go into heat. And kittens stay with their mom for 15-18 months. Even once kittens start to travel with her, up until around six months old the mother stashes her kittens while she makes a kill, then she comes back for them to feed on it. So you might not see tracks in that case either. And kittens can’t reliably climb trees till about 5 or 6 months old.”

“Really?! They can’t climb till six months?”

Then the other young man chimes in…”Well if we kill more cats, that’s good. We want to get rid of them all. They kill deer and we want more deer.”

two cougars, mom and kitten

Mom with 8 month old kitten

I was getting pretty tired of attempting to educate these guys on lion biology 101.

“That’s plain ole not true. They’ve done studies on that since the 1980s and habitat is what grows deer, not less cougars. Look up the science. Your logic has long been debunked.”

“If that’s not true, why would Game and Fish issue two tags for this area?”

“Now that’s a good question. Talk with the state legislature.”

One of the young men told me there’s “tons of cougars here.”

“What’s ‘tons?'” I asked him, for which he had no answer. I told them lions have low densities across huge territories.

“Well, there’s a lot more now. There’s too many and they need to be managed so there’s less.” He replied.

Cougar Kitten 1:2016

Cougar kitten 5-6 months

I’ve just finished writing a book about mountain lions (which will be out sometime in 2018). The book, called Ghostwalker: Tracking a Lion’s Soul through Science and Story, discusses all the latest science in Yellowstone, Jackson, Montana, and California. I speak with scientists, conservationists, trackers, state game managers, as well as houndsmen from Montana. The houndsmen I spoke with were old timers who never used all this new technology such as GPS on their dogs. They all were highly educated about mountain lions. And they all respected and honored the animal. Several, such as Boone Smith and Grover Hedrick, worked with biologists on lion studies. The young men I spoke with this morning represent a group of cat hunters who should not have been given cougar licenses. They were not properly educated.

My blog post today is not a discussion on whether or not to have mountain lion hunting. This is a discussion of how to work “in the better.” The “best” would be no lion hunting. As biologist Colby Anton who is working on the current Yellowstone National Park mountain lion study told me, ““It’s kind of nice that people don’t see cougars, and that is why [Yellowstone] doesn’t have a management program for cougars—we don’t have to manage cougars, they manage themselves.” Yet, living in Wyoming, we need to be realistic. We need to work “in the better” in places like Wyoming where I live. Wyoming isn’t about to follow in California’s footsteps anytime soon with a voter referendum to place lions as a “protected species.”

So what are a few “betters” we can begin with?

Wyoming Game and Fish 2015 tally shows that houndsmen fulfill their lion tag in three days or less. Why is that? It is because of easy road access. The fellows I spoke with today spent a few hours, at best, over the weekend, driving up a road on a snowmobile, putting their dogs out with GPS collars, then treeing the cat. Not only did they learn nothing about tracking a cougar and the habits of cougars, but they are only interested in a dead lion, not in the life of the lion.

Wyoming 2014-15 ML Harvest data

Wyoming Harvest Data Mountain Lions 2014-2015

Elk and deer descend in the winter. Easy winter road access means lion sink zones (a sink zone is a term that indicates a declining lion population vs. a source or stable population). Look at this map produced from a study by Dr. Toni Ruth in Yellowstone. The dark areas are sink habitat, which correspond with drainages where there is easy road access.YNP Cougar survival souce sink chart RUTH

One change Wyoming must make is to consider road density. Gary Koehler, wildlife research scientist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife from 1994 to 2011, has suggested managing hunt areas based on road density and snow conditions. More road access means easier hunter success. By distributing the hunter harvest over a wide area, hunters are not necessarily attracted to areas where it’s easiest to get a cougar.

These young ignorant hunters also made me think that Wyoming Game & Fish should be requiring every houndsman to take a class on basic mountain lion biology that is science based. Wyoming Game and Fish doesn’t subscribe to ‘kill more lions, grow more deer’, so they should put that science out there for every houndsman to hear.

WY 2007-2014 harvest data

In addition, all the Montana houndsmen I spoke with told me that they wanted a ZERO quota on females. In order to maintain a stable or source lion population, females should not be hunted. Wyoming doesn’t separate their quotas by sex, but Montana does. Wyoming recently made a change that cougars traveling together cannot be shot, but that didn’t protect this young female.

My hope is that my new book, Ghostwalker, will help to not only educate but also give people a glimpse into the secret life of these animals and their complex social systems. You only protect what you know and love. Let’s give lions a better chance.

cougar kittens 2:2017

Two Cougar Kittens around 5 months old early February 2017. These kittens should have dispersed by now. Was one of these killed by the hunters today?

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Advocating for Lions, Bears and Wolves

cougar track with penny

As wolf hunting re-emerges this month in Wyoming, and grizzly bear hunting is now being considered with their new delisted status, I thought it was a good time for a blog post on how Game and Fish Agencies are influenced in their decision processes. So called ‘non-consumptive users’–those who do not hunt nor fish (or rarely so)–have no real voice in state wildlife management because they are excluded from being a funding source. Few people understand the mechanics of wildlife management. To that end, this blog post is a short excerpt from my upcoming book on mountain lions, with the working title Thinking Like a Mountain Lion: Tracking a Lion’s Soul through Science and Story.  Although the excerpt references lions, the fundamentals apply to all wildlife, including trophy game animals like bears and wolves.

As a simple introduction to the post below, one has to understand the hierarchy of wildlife management. Under United States common law, the people own the wildlife, while the states hold them in trust for citizens. The lines of jurisdictional authority are complex and highly political. But, in general, state legislatures pass wildlife laws, state game commissions interpret the laws, and the state wildlife agencies implement and enforce the laws. The governor usually appoints state wildlife commissioners for a set period of time, which means they are not elected by the public, and therefore do not have to be responsive to the wide range of public opinions on mountain lion management. The commission establishes hunting seasons, harvest quotas, and management actions. Mission and mandate statements for these state commissions are broad, allowing them to accommodate non-scientifically supported decisions, such as drastically reducing cougar numbers in order to enhance deer populations for recreational hunting. These kinds of decisions fit neatly in with where the majority of the funding for these agencies comes from—hunting and fishing licenses. In other words, non-consumptive users, people who just like to watch wildlife and take photos, have little say in state wildlife management.

I first met David Mattson through his advocacy work for grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone. What I didn’t know then was that he had also participated in over ten years of research in the Southwest focused on puma ecology and puma-human interactions. Both of these experiences with megafauna have shaped his observations on state predator management and its interactions with the public.

Mattson points out that although changes in attitudes towards predators have been incorporated into state game agency policy, the essential structure and funding of the agencies themselves has not changed. What he calls the “utilitarian/dominionistic” worldview has dominated these wildlife agencies since the early 1900s, where domination and utilitarianism is the goal. Over the last forty or so years, a new approach among the public has emerged which values nature for its intrinsic beauty, focusing on ecological connection, scientific advancements, and the idea that humans have a moral responsibility to protect the earth and its wildlife. These two stances are diametrically opposite, creating increasing public demands on the agency management.

Yet, only one set of people holds power over wildlife decisions. Wildlife commissions and employees in wildlife management agencies, are almost all self-identified hunters and supporters of groups that support hunting. Funding sources for these agencies comes primarily from hunters, trappers, anglers, and gun owners through licenses sales and other fees. In Wyoming, for instance, 80% of their Game and Fish funding is from sales of hunting and fishing licenses. North Dakota’s entire budget for wildlife management is sourced from these user fees. The Pittman-Robertson (or Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act) places an excise tax on the sale of firearms, ammunition products, and archery equipment. This act gives additional monetary support to wildlife agencies to the tune of millions of dollars a year from lethal weapons sales. The funding bar is heavily weighted in favor of hunting opportunity.

Mattson writes that having a homogeneous group in charge of wildlife issues makes for a uniform world-view, one that tends to be sympathetic towards that particular constituency—the hunting crowd becomes the ‘in-group’ with preferential treatment, with livestock growers a secondary component.

Wildlife are considered public trust assets. What that means is that they are owned by no persons, but held ‘in trust by governments for the benefit of present and future generations.” This idea dates back to the Magna Carta in England, and was enshrined into law by the Supreme Court over 150 years ago. The public trust doctrine provides a framework for which state and federal governments can protect, conserve, allocate and control wildlife for the benefit of the public.

Over the last forty years, increasing urbanization has made “the internal world of the utilitarian/dominionistic subsystem increasingly out of sync” with the decline of hunters, notes Mattson. This has threatened the revenue stream for Game and Fish agencies, perplexed them as to how to understand and reverse these declines, as well as challenged their traditional values and identities.

The other side of the coin is what Mattson calls the ‘out-group’, those who have no real voice in wildlife management.  These include non-hunting environmentalists, animal welfare groups such as The Humane Society, and what is commonly referred to as ‘non-consumptive’** users, those who like to take photographs and watch wildlife. This group is excluded from decision-making because they have no access to agency budgets through fees, the legislature, nor to the commissions who are appointees by the Governors rather than elected officials. These outsiders’ perspectives are not shared by those who have dominated this arena of wildlife management for the last hundred years.

Mattson argues that the incompatibility of these two perspectives, and the fact that only one narrow view holds all the power over what should be a representative and democratic agency, is the main obstruction to reform in management.

“Mountain lion management will continue to serve a narrow set of special interests organized around hunting as long as revenues are primarily hunting related, commissioners are deeply imbued with the ethos of hunting, and management agencies are dominated by a hunting culture. This is not to say that hunting is intrinsically bad, but rather that any policy process that patently serves narrow special interests while marginalizing all others is fundamentally incompatible with a liberal democracy grounded in civil discourse.”

So how to move forward. No one person has the answer, but a good beginning is represented by groups like the one Sharon Negri participates in with a variety of stakeholders in Washington State. Or the Predator Policy Group in California that Rick Hopkins sits on with three consumptive, three non-consumptive, and three Ag users, with himself as the science advisor. They are responsible to consider predator reforms and suggest new language or regulations that the Commissioners might adopt. Shrinking hunter-dollar revenues, even as the number of wildlife watchers and non-consumptive users is growing, is beginning to push agencies to come to the table to find new funding sources. These new funding sources must include all users—whether something like a tax on photographic equipment and wilderness gear, use fees, lottery proceeds, or even general tax dollars—that could be worked out by these consensus groups. Additionally, public awareness of how these agencies currently operate, what their policies are, how they are funded, and what voices they are excluding is essential. When Texas Mammalogist Jonah Evans said to me “if the public knew the trapping policies on mountain lions they’d be outraged”, he was right. I asked a few Texans if they knew that cougars have absolutely no protections in their state and they were more than surprised at that news.

To begin the conversation, all interests need to come to the table. Again, Mattson sums it up very succinctly. “Moving beyond the current paradigm will likely require diversifying revenues so that no one interest group has a lock on agency financial well-being, diversifying commission membership to represent the full spectrum of ways that people value animals such as mountain lions, and diversifying the cultures of management agencies and the academic institutions that train prospective employees.”

Wildlife agencies are waking up, but letting go of control is not easy to relinquish. Yet on the other side, conservationists and animal rights advocates need to come to the table in good faith, with an open mind. Democracy isn’t about getting everything one side wants, but about listening, honoring and respecting the interests of others, and coming to policy decisions that not only take all stakeholders into account, but, in this case, the lion’s future as well. Shifting the conversation from ‘resource’ to ‘intrinsic value’ and the ecological benefits of lions, as well as other predators, is a good starting point. The prioritization of establishing stable, self-sustaining lion populations needs to be a first topic of conversation not only amongst western agencies, but where lions are absent or struggling to exist in the eastern half of the country.

State wildlife management amounts to only one piece of this multi-pronged approach. Corridor identification and protections (such as freeway overpasses or land purchases), preserving large tracts of habitat for a species that follows migrations of prey, banning rodenticides, public education programs, elimination of predator programs like Wildlife Services, funding and educational help for non-lethal livestock protection programs, developing risk maps for livestock owners—the to-do list is long.

NOTES

1. Mattson, David J. “State-Level Management of a Common Charismatic Predator. Mountain Lions in the West.” Large Carnivore Conservation, Chapter 2, University of Chicago Press 2014.

2.The term ‘non-consumptive user’ has recently been coined as a label for all those enjoyers of wildlife and the natural environment that do not hunt nor fish. But it has been pointed out to me during my research for this book that it is a faulty and misleading term, as we are all ‘consumers’ in one way or another–whether we eat animal products, use ATV’s, horses or bicycles which mar the landscape, or just hikers who make noise and disturb wildlife in their native habitat. As humans, we plough through the landscape, leaving a wake of invisible disturbance that interferes with the daily habits of wildlife. A better term for those who do not hunt nor fish, but enjoy the outdoors needs to emerge.

Tracking a Mountain Lion

A few weeks ago when I was out looking for mountain lion sign, I noticed that a male was making scrapes in a very defined route. I followed through the narrow corridors where he was putting his sign down and came to a rise that looked out over the valley. Just below the viewpoint was another tight drainage. I’d seen this pathway before but never ventured down that way. I knew it went down to a C-shaped plateau that linked the creek, a heavily forested area I’d been to before and had seen lion sign. I decided to return and explore the narrow passage, and see if it was a good corridor for wildlife down to the river.

Last week I made that trip with my trail camera in hand, as well as a GPS. To my surprise, not only was the corridor fairly easy to traverse, but this lion had marked it with scrapes about every 150 feet, and killed a deer along the way. I marked a few of the cougar canyon

scrapes with the GPS as you can see and put my camera on one of them. When I got down to the wooded canyon, the C-shaped plateau is fairly flat, one side which easily leads to the creek while the other is steep and filled with brush. Scrapes (which I did not mark on the GPS) continued all along the forest floor, with several deer kills, as well as two scrapes with a large amount of covered lion scat.

I was hoping to see the male lion on my camera who was responsible for all this marking. I went today to retrieve the photos. It’s only been a week, and although lions have very regular routes (I know I will see him) he may not return this way for 2 weeks or more.

DCIM102RECNX

Black wolf

DCIM102RECNX

Grizzly bear

No cat yet, but bears and wolves.

Mark Elbroch, in puma studies in Northern California and Colorado, found that pumas likely killed more prey when bears are around. The cats are pushed off their kills more quickly, losing precious calories, forcing them to kill their next prey sooner than they might otherwise. The study found that many bears were on a puma kill within just forty-eight hours after the kill was made.

That’s a big bear that was ‘following’ that puma. I retrieved my photos and started up the corridor drainage, with bear spray in hand as the visibility is poor. Halfway I came upon that bear’s day bed, along with a very large scat that smelled terrible. Bear scat usually just smells sweet, from all the grass and plants they eat. But when they eat meat, watch out! The whole zone smelled bad.

Bear Scat

Bear Scat

Bear day bed

Koda by the Bear day bed

Lions in Texas Part 2

I wanted to do another short lion post on Texas. Short because there is literally nothing going on with protections for mountain lions there; hasn’t been since the Mexican-American war. Truthfully, every time I think about the status of Mountain Lions in Texas, it infuriates me. I would hope it begins to infuriate others, especially Texans.

Cougar

I spoke with Jonah Evans whose the mammalogist for the entire State. A study done by Joseph Holbrook in 2011 compared the genetics of South Texas, West Texas, and New Mexico. It showed that cougars in South Texas had decreased by at least 50% historically, were inbred, and generally not doing well.  The Trans-Peco region of West Texas was still holding up o.k. The Trans-Peco region has immigration from mainly Mexico and probably some cougars from New Mexico. It is an area with large ranches, a lot of them older ranchers trying to eek out their living. In addition there are large ‘game’ ranches where people come to hunt deer and exotic species, paying the big bucks. Those ranchers hire trappers to rid the area of cougars who kill their commodity. South Texas by comparison is contiguous with sheep and goat ranchers, easy prey for cougars. Immigration would come mainly from Big Bend National Park.

Texas immigrants

Confirmed sighings of lions in Texas in the last ten years

The reality is that Texas is a state with almost no public lands and where private landowners have a lot of political power. It comes down to a private rancher or landowner who might not care if he has cougars on his property, and so lets them live. This makes for a hodge-podge of lands that cougars move through, some safe and others not.

Mountain lions are considered a nuisance animal–varmit–and can shot anytime, anywhere, without telling anyone. There also are no trapping regulations on cougars. At this point the only reason why Texas has any mountain lions at all is because of immigration from Mexico. cougar print

One thing Jonah Evans mentioned (that I could tell upset him as well) is that the usual trapping regulation for fur-bearing animals in Texas (36 hour trap check) do not apply to Mountain Lions. They also do not apply for bobcats and coyotes. There are trappers out there, he told me, that leave their traps out for a month, big steel bear sized traps, without checking them and it’s perfectly legal.

Cougar

Cougar exhibits a flehmen response

In 1992 the Sierra Club did a campaign for several years trying to bring attention to the plight of the Texas Mountain Lion with the hope of changing their status to trophy game with a legal hunt. It was all over the news, but got no traction. The biologists I’ve spoken with all told me about that effort as if it had been yesterday. Since then, nothing’s happened.

Jonah felt that if people actually knew the status of mountain lions, the trapping that is not regulated, and the shoot on sight policy, they’d want change. As it is, Texas is definitely the Lone Star state, as all the other Western states identify mountain lions at the very least as a valuable animal that deserves game status and regulations.

three cougars

DCIM100MEDIA

Lions on the Edge in Texas

I’ve been digging into everything about mountain lions, talking with biologists, houndsmen, trackers, and conservationists. In the predator war that began with settlers moving West, bounties were placed on mountain lions in all the Western States. Cougars had already been eradicated in the Mid-West and East. The arid, broken country of Western deserts and steep terrain of rugged mountains saved the Western cougars from disappearing completely. The actual total number of cougars killed through bounties and government agents is unknown, but just to blow your mind, here are a few estimates from state bounty records (after records started being kept): California 1,754; Montana 1,897; Oregon 6,752; Washington 3,143; Utah 3,895; Idaho 1,407; Animal Damage Control 1937 through 1970-7,255; Arizona 7,800. Remember these are just numbers of cougars killed while states had bounties.

usda_cougar_heads_lg

This infamous photo of the severed heads of 11 mountain lions was taken by an outraged employee of the Arizona Game and Fish Department. These animals were among 24 lions killed by the federal agency Animal Damage Control (now called Wildlife Services)

Then in the 1960s and early 70s, a sea change occurred, or as Rupert Sheldrake might call it, morphic resonance. Western states eliminated the bounty, and over the course of just a few years, states changed the status of the mountain lion from predator to game animals. That monumental change created hunting seasons, quotas, and fines on poaching for lions. The lion population began to grow again.

The one exception to this Western metamorphose was Texas. Granted, Texas does have the least amount of public lands of all the Western states, a measly 2%. Yet forty years later, Texas still classifies mountain lions as non-game unprotected animals, able to be killed year round regardless of sex, no bag limit, trapped, snared, shot or poisoned.

So what is with Texas? Still living in the 19th century, is Texas just slow, maybe ten, twenty years from now they will follow the rest of the West? Or does Texas have some kind of immunity to the morphic field?

Texas cougar

To find out, I called Orie Gilad, a biologist who did a study on cougars in Texas about 10 years ago, and maintains the Texas Mountain Lion website, that has all the current Texas lion information. Just like the website says, the picture is grim. Lions are few in Texas because Texans like to kill them. Lions in Texas are immigrating from Mexico and a few from New Mexico. West Texas is difficult, hard scrabble desert where generational ranching families try to make a living with sheep and goats, as well as cattle. Although lions and sheep are generally a recipe for loss, old prejudices against predators in the ranching community die slowly. In West Texas, this may mean one funeral at a time. If lions head east, towards mid and east Texas, they are quickly picked off. Game farms where deer are hunted for profit will not tolerate a lion on their ranch. The main areas where lions are tolerated are Big Bend National Park  (because it is a National Park and no hunting is allowed), some private ranches, some ranches in Western Texas that have been abandoned by families who no longer want to tough ranching out, and oddly enough, Jeff Bezos Space launch site, Blue Origin, almost 300,000 acres where no hunting is allowed, though Bezos isn’t doing that because mountain lions are endearing to him, yet protection it is.

three cougars

Besides excessive killing of lions, a new potential threat to the few lions left in west Texas is Trump’s border wall. Trump wants to build a 30 foot concrete wall. Animals like coyotes which can usually dig under a fence can’t dig under a concrete footing for a 30′ wall. And although lions are great jumpers, the usual is about 20′ from standing. If a wall like that becomes a reality, cougar immigration will stop, which would spell the end of the Texas mountain lion population.

Every three years representatives from western states, including researchers and biologists, gather for a Mountain Lion Workshop to share new science and talk about management. Missing is Texas. Why? Because research is just not going on there. In the past, some has gone on in trickles, mostly in Big Bend. But Texas does not even show up at the biggest, baddest, cougar conference among cougar scientists and managers!

I asked Orie Gilad if there was any hope in Texas’ future for lions, besides old ranchers dying. She mentioned that there is a young persons, and artists, immigration surge. Education, she says, is key, and so her website. If mountain lions are to survive, and someday thrive, in Texas, they will need all our voices.

cougar

 

Cougar Stories

I’ve become fascinated by cougars. Maybe because they are elusive, secretive, more akin to a ghost than an animal of flesh and blood. Which of course, begs the question: How do you get people to care about and protect an animal that they never see, nor probably will never see in their lifetime?

mom-and-kitten

Mom and six month old kitten

Visitors to Yellowstone National Park can be almost guaranteed, if they are persistent and patient, to view wolves and bears, elk, bison, and bighorn sheep. But only the rare individual will have the opportunity to see a cougar in the Park. They’ve been spotted at Calcite Springs, hanging on the basalt walls and occasionally through a scope from the Hellroaring overlook. Usually the Park sightings are called in by wolf watchers. Once radioed around, tourists hear about it through the airwaves, then flock to those locations. Sometimes the cat might be hanging out, either on a kill or just sunning himself, for hours.

In all my winter tracking I’ve done, I’ve never seen a cougar. In fact, the people I know who have seen cougars, it’s usually from the car when a cat suddenly runs across the road at dusk.

I sat down with Jim Halfpenny for an interview about cougar tracking stories. Jim is a famous tracker who lives in Gardiner, Mt. As a Mammalogist and expert tracker, he has worked all over the West and Canada. His puma tracking includes the deserts of Arizona and Utah as well as the mountains of the Greater Yellowstone.

Jim used to live and work in Colorado. His interest in cougars began in 1982 when the Forest Service called him in to investigate a bear-killed horse within the small town of Nederland CO.  Jim told them “this is not a bear that mauled the horse. It’s a cougar” The Forest Service thought the kill was made by a bear because there were five claw marks on the horse’s neck. If you look at a cat paw, there are four claws and a dew claw high up, like on a dog.  On a cougar print, the dew claw doesn’t show and it’s not bone attached, it’s tendon attached. But Jim knew that dew claw, called ‘the killer claw’, would show on a kill because it wraps around it’s prey. Thus the five marks.  Jim asked himself “What is a cougar doing in a town?” and so began a research project.

cougar print

cougar print has only four paws showing. Dew Claw doesn’t show

Cougar print

Big cat print

I asked Jim if he had tracked cougars without dogs and still seen them. “Oh, many times. I’ve hardly ever used dogs. He told me several of those stories but two stand out.

“I got a phone call from a woman when I lived in Boulder. There was some snow on the ground but it was thin, only about 2 inches. I followed the tracks, and soon I was about 50 yards from the back of this cougar. He looked up and his face said ‘Who are you, what are you doing following me?’

That cougar took a few strides and disappeared but I observed he was cutting a big letter ‘C’; so I cut across the ‘C’, and began following his tracks till they suddenly disappeared. I looked around. No tracks. And then I looked up and there he was, in the tree, looking at me. I got some good photographs of him in that tree.  I’ve got more photographs in the wild than anybody not using dogs or set cameras.”

img_0002

Puma uses his vomeronasal organ on the roof of mouth to pick up smells better

Halfpenny told me another great story from the Boulder era. “I got a phone call from a woman who said she watched a cougar kill a deer from her window. It was three in afternoon went I got there. I found that deer and chained it to a tree. Then I did a necropsy on it and saw it was pregnant. I walked one hundred steps off the carcass and sat down. Pretty soon that cougar returns. He’s knows I’m there, and begins trying to pull that deer away to a hidden spot. And he’s pulling for all he’s worth, but that deer is chained to the tree. The cougar looks like ‘What! I don’t understand this. I just killed the thing, and I can’t move it!’

“I watched that cat way into the night, filmed and photographed her. After dark, in came mature kittens. Our crew took turns watching from Friday 3pm to Monday 3pm. Over that time we had foxes, coyotes, domestic dogs and the cougar. It was as if all these animals were waiting on the edges to come in. There were multiple cycles of this.”

cougar 9.03

Cougar caught on camera

Most of us will never see a cougar in our lifetime, even if they are living right around us. I intend to write more about cougars with the hope that people will know them and feel the urge to protect them.

 

Not a Wildlife Blog today

At a loss for words, these were the words that became my voice today. Maybe nobody will read this, and many will not agree with me, but I needed to post this blog today. It is not about wildlife, nor about gardening, but a personal reflection that needed to be said.

January 9, 2016

Both my grandparents came to the United States to avoid genocide on Jews. This wasn’t the genocide of Hitler’s Nazi Germany. These were the pogroms of the late 1800s and early 1900s in Russia and Eastern Europe.

My father grew up in Danbury, Connecticut where his father worked in a hat factory. Danbury was a hat factory center, and immigrants could obtain low-paying jobs working with dangerous chemicals, like the mercury used to stiffen hat brims. Although Danbury was a small town of many immigrants, mostly Italians, there were few Jews and much anti-Semitism. Being a Jew in a Gentile town, he had no friends. I remember my father telling me how he wanted to play stickball with the other boys in the neighborhood, but they only let him be the water boy, calling him names like ‘Jew-Boy’.

My grandmother on my mother’s side came to the United States from Poland when she was only thirteen, around the late 1890’s, probably on a boat by herself, and then the rest of her large family followed in early 1900. It wasn’t until 1939 that she became a naturalized citizen. Although she worked for years, she never learned to read.

My parents met and married in the 1930s, living in New York City. After the war they moved to Los Angeles where my father started his own business. My father’s last name was Brownstein. My father had not forgotten his earlier struggles with anti-Semitism, and since there were few Jews in California, my parents decided to shorten their last name to Brown, hoping to make it easier on their children in school, and in their new business career.

My parents never forgot where they came from and how hard it was for people to get a leg up. They slowly built a garment manufacturing company from scratch in the downtown Los Angeles area. They hired people of all colors and races including Latinos, African-Americans, Europeans, and whites. Most of their employees with managerial positions were Black women. During the lunch hour, my parent’s office door was always open. Employees would come in, sit down and talk about whatever they wanted. Many times my parents gave loans to employees to help them buy a first home, or bring a family member in legally from Mexico. I remember my mother telling me that if I needed something, to write to my local Congressman. She wrote many letters of requests for visas for her Mexican employees. Their employees, fiercely loyal, stayed for twenty, sometimes more than thirty, years.

My father sold his business at the age of 75, and the New York company which bought him out immediately changed the work customs. There was no longer a lunchtime open door policy. Managers brought in from New York did not mingle with the factory workers. For the first time, the employees unionized. Three years after my father sold his business, which he’d owned for over thirty years, the business went bankrupt. I think it was the biggest heartache for my father. My father died at age 86. Even though it had been over ten years since he retired, 100 former employees came to his funeral, many giving emotional speeches.

My mother used to tell me that “I learned a lot from my employees”. By the time I was six years old, my father had about 100 employees. I remember fondly the times I went to my parent’s factory, racing all around like a happy kid and visiting my adult friends that were of all races and creeds. My parents won an award for one of the first integrated factories in Los Angeles.

Today, with Donald Trump winning the Presidency, after a campaign dominated by hate speech directed at immigrants, people of color, and Muslims, I am thinking about my grandparents and the country they came to in which to escape genocide. I am thinking about what my parents must have gone through as Jews to create a better life for their children, a life that was free of prejudice and where we could worship as we pleased without hatred or bigotry. I am thinking of how my parents gave a hand-up to so many people, how they never forgot their own roots and struggles. This is the America I know. And this is the America they taught me about.

One thing is certain, we cannot allow the hatred and bigotry that this man, now our President, has stirred up, to fester and take over what America stands for at its core. Truly, I am at a loss for words. Maybe that is why all I can think of on this dark day are the hopes and dreams of my parents and grandparents, and what they envisioned for their children. My generation is the beneficiaries of the work of people like my grandparents, parents, and so many others. Let us continue to fight the good fight.