Look around the Adirondacks and you find plenty of peaks and other natural features named for panthers, cougars, catamounts and lions. Are there big cats behind every tree and rock?
No, in fact the federal government last week moved the mythical Eastern Mountain Lion from protected status to extinct.
The last mountain lion in the Northeast was shot in Maine 80 years ago. You need to look decades earlier to find a time when the region last sustained a significant breeding population.
Mountain lions were a victim of fur and fear: trapped for their pelts and shot for the fear that they would kill livestock. We haven’t had a native mountain lion in New York since the 1800s.
And as I write that, there are people who are grumbling in disagreement. Wasn’t there one videotaped in Crown Point? No, that was a house cat. Wasn’t there a photo showing one in a garage. No, that was a hoax … as was this.
The few possibly real cases are thought to be western mountain lions, released or escaped.
But instead of regretting the loss of Mountain Lions or grasping at straws, let’s look to the future.
Because the big cats are no longer protected here there is a slightly better chance that possible future restoration efforts could move forward. That an interesting argument made in this National Geographic piece.
I say “slightly,” because I think it is very unlikely.
Efforts to reintroduce the lynx to the Adirondacks failed and all 80 cats died. If our mountains can’t sustain lynx, I fear mountain lions are a lost cause.
Instead, let’s look to recent successes.
Biologists estimate the Adirondacks now sustain 500 to 700 moose, another animal that was once extinct here. The moose return came largely thanks to the moose, who moved in from neighboring populations.
And what about bald eagles? Once rare, the iconic birds are nesting and breeding in increasing numbers throughout the region.
What can we learn from these examples? When we remove obstacles, threatened animals can return and even thrive. To paraphrase “Jurassic Park,” “Life finds a way.”
We can also learn that, without our attention and care, the threatened animals who are here now may not be here in the future. Will the eastern timber rattlesnake, Bicknell’s thrush and a variety of threatened bat species still be here in 10 years? It is up to us.