An environmental advocacy organization plans to collect data on possible mountain lion sightings in the Adirondacks.
Protect the Adirondacks announced last week that it has started a new Cougar Watch project to record public sightings of the large cats. Sightings can be reported on the organization's website. For sightings that seem legitimate, the group plans to follow up and gather more information, especially if there are clusters of reports in one geographical area.
"We were just trying to formalize a public reporting process for sightings in the Adirondacks to try and build a database of current sightings," Protect Executive Director Peter Bauer said. "Hopefully we can build this database in the years ahead, just to get some data behind all of these sightings that are continuous in the Park."
Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Protect the Adirondacks has started a new Cougar Watch program set up to gather information from public sightings of mountain lions.
Sightings of mountain lions have occurred for years. Some people believe that cougars live here; others believe they live outside the region but travel through the Adirondacks.
Despite the speculation, there has been no hard data presented publicly that substantiate claims that cougars have a breeding population in the Adirondacks.
However, there have been some legitimate sightings. In December of 2010, Cindy Eggleston, the wife of a retired state Department of Environmental Conservation Col. David Eggleston, spotted a cougar in her backyard in Lake George. The DEC later confirmed tracks and fur from the animal to be from a cougar.
The cougar was found dead in Connecticut in June 2011. Scientists later said the mountain lion likely traveled east from South Dakota.
Populations of the cougars in the Midwest and north of the Adirondacks in Canada have been reportedly growing in recent years. That's one of the reasons Protect is keeping the database. It wants to find out if some of those animals are leaving their home ranges and wandering into the Adirondacks.
"(In recent years) there were reports in North Carolina; there were reports in Virginia; there were reports in Massachusetts," Bauer said. "So cougars are clearly moving from places where they have had viable populations. Out west, they have expanded significantly in the past couple of decades."
Protect's Cougar Watch follows the work by board member Peter O'Shea, a naturalist who lives in St. Lawrence County. Throughout the 1990s and early 2000s, O'Shea recorded hundreds of sightings of cougars from hundreds of people and several times he even claimed to track cougars in the Adirondacks.