An article published last month in the international conservation journal Oryx indicates that the Adirondack Park could sustain a wild cougar population.
Written by SUNY Oswego biology faculty member Dr. John Laundre, the article challenges previous findings, including a 1981 study by SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry biologist Rainer Brocke who found that the road system in the Adirondacks would deter cougar populations from re-establishing themselves here.
"Because of its vast size and relatively pristine state, this Park is a potential relocation site," Laundre said in his report. "If cougars could survive in the Park, their return to other areas in the region could also be feasible."
A recent study shows that wild cougars could survive in the Adirondack Park.
(Photo provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife)
Cougars were extirpated from the Adirondacks, in a large part because of bounty programs that sought to have their numbers reduced.
Laundre, who is vice president of the Cougar Rewilding Foundation, said that Brocke evaluated the Adirondack Park and identified a 7,500 square kilometer area that would be suitable for cougar habitat because of its low road and human population densities. Brocke estimated the habitat could support a re-population of 116 cougars, but concluded that human activities would cause this population to become extinct within 10 years, and a reintroduction shouldn't happen, Laundre said.
But Laundre's paper states that Brocke didn't take into account all of the information available to him on cougars, and that new information has come forth, proving that cougars can survive in areas similar to the Adirondacks.
"Although there is some danger of cougars being killed on paved roads in the Park, the low density of these highways suggest that road-related mortality would be low," Laundre states. "Within most of the areas where cougars could roam, they could therefore move across large tracts of land, encounter few people and only have to cross dirt roads."
Laundre also states there would be a sufficient deer population for cougars to prey upon. His Adirondack analysis suggests that cougars annually would take about 8 percent of the forest preserve's estimated 50,000 to 80,000 white-tailed deer, a number he called easily sustainable in conjunction with the current hunter harvest and wildlife management protocols.
"A comparison of Adirondack State Park with other areas supports the conclusion that the Park could support a population of 150-350 cougars," Laundre states. "These animals would be able to move freely about the Park without substantial contact with humans. There would be some mortality from road-related causes and removal of animals either legally or illegally, but the population would probably be self-sustaining. Other areas in the northeastern USA provide similar habitat and a population in (the) Adirondacks could potentially expand beyond the Park to establish populations across a broad geographic range, adding to the long-term viability of the species."
While Laundre's findings may show that the habitat could be suitable for cougars, there are other factors that would go into any decision to bring cougars back here.
He notes that sportsmen may be concerned that cougars could prey on species they hunt, and farmers may raise concerns about their livestock. In addition, the presence of cougars would raise questions about public safety.
Laundre says that data shows that most of these concerns are unfounded.
"If we address these issues in light of existing data rather than emotional rhetoric, there is a high probability that cougars could be successfully reintroduced to Adirondack State Park and other suitable areas in the eastern USA," he said. "What is now required is the will to bring them back."