Cougars on the Prowl in Michigan

A rare daytime photo of a cougar. Photo courtesy of Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.

A rare daytime photo of a cougar. Photo courtesy of Michigan Wildlife Conservancy.

Cougars have been on our minds quite a lot this year! A few weeks ago, three cougar photos captured by trail cameras in the Upper Peninsula were confirmed by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. And over the summer, the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy released a rare daytime photo of a cougar walking through the woods of southern Marquette County.

There have been 20 confirmed sightings of cougars in the Upper Peninsula since 2008. Cougars are native to Michigan, but their population drastically declined in the early 1900s when they were extirpated from the state. The last confirmed wild cougar prior to 2008 was killed near Newberry in 1906.

Cougars are listed as endangered in Michigan and are protected under state law. They are primarily nocturnal, and are solitary animals that prefer to hunt from cover. Their primary prey is wild deer and occasionally young moose. Cougars typically weigh between 90 and 180 pounds and have a body length of about five to six feet long.

Cougars recently documented in Michigan may be transient cougars from the nearest known breeding populations in North and South Dakota, more than 900 miles away. One of the cougar images captured earlier this year showed a cougar wearing a radio collar. The state of Michigan does not use radio collars to track cougars, but North and South Dakota do.

It is also possible that some of the recently-spotted cougars could be escaped or released pets. It has been illegal to own large exotic cats in Michigan since 2000, but a few people who owned them prior to the ban do have permits to keep them. The DNR occasionally will receive reports of illegally-owned cougars and will confiscate the animals.

If you think you’ve spotted a cougar in your area, contact the Michigan DNR. To learn more about cougars and other large predators in Michigan, see this blog post by former MNA intern Hannah Ettema.

Snowshoe or Cross-Country Ski with MNA!

Snowshoeing at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Janet Lins

Snowshoeing at Black Creek Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Janet Lins

Winter doesn’t slow us down at MNA! We will be exploring Michigan in a variety of ways this winter, including special opportunities to snowshoe and cross-country ski through some of the state’s most unique landscapes.

Last winter, MNA members and friends enjoyed snowshoe hikes in the Keweenaw.  Hikers experienced the beautiful snow-covered dunes, frozen rivers and Lake Superior shoreline. The snowshoe hikes were so popular that MNA has planned more of them this winter! We hope you’ll be able to join us to experience one of Michigan’s most picturesque areas – the Keweenaw Peninsula!

Snowshoe hikes this winter:

Saturday, January 6 – Redwyn’s Dunes Nature Sanctuary, near Eagle Harbor

Saturday, January 19 – Black Creek Nature Sanctuary, near Calumet

Saturday, February 2 – Gratiot Lake Overlook Nature Sanctuary, near Copper Harbor

Saturday, February 23 – Rooks Memorial Nature Sanctuary, near Copper Harbor

Sunday, March 3 – Robert T. Brown Plant Preserve, near Painesdale

Email to RSVP or for details about the snowshoe hikes. Please RSVP so MNA can advise you of any emergency cancellations.

Snowshoe hikers explore Mystery Valley.

Snowshoe hikers explore Mystery Valley.

This year, MNA is also offering two cross-country ski opportunities. On Saturday, January 26, join steward Mary Probst for a cross-country ski along the Eagle Harbor Township Recreation Trail in Keweenaw County.

In the Lower Peninsula, steward Patricia Pennell will lead a cross-country ski trip through the beautiful Five Lakes Muskegon Nature Sanctuary in Muskegon County on Saturday, February 2. If there is no snow, Patricia will still lead a hike, a rare opportunity to explore this unique sanctuary. For details about either of these trips, please visit MNA’s website.

Keep checking MNA’s event calendar for more winter events. We hope to see you in the field!