It's a story that most North Country folks have heard, and it's one that most of us truly want to believe. We want to believe it is true because it makes this place seem wilder, mysterious, and possibly even mythical.
Often, it is a secretive tale about a secretive beast, and yet it is talked about all across the Adirondacks from barrooms to board rooms, and from all points between. We want to believe the story, even though it often involves rumors about secret releases, green group conspiracies, missing radio collars, black-ops coverups and other such nonsense.
It's often at this point that the X-Files gets lost the woods; which is the reason why the NYSDEC had to issue a press release last summer to clear the air about a number of internet hoaxs and continued rumors about pictures of dead cougars and other suspicious evidences.
Unfortunately, most storytellers don't realize that no one would be happier than the DEC, to learn that cougars have returned to the Adirondacks.
Actual proof of a cat would be proof of a truly wild habitate, and that would be a mighty big feather to place on the green Stetsons in Ray Brook.
For many, the presence of large predators such as wolves, bears and mountain lions validates the state of our wilderness. Even if the big cats are really out there, we are still brave enough to travel the woods. If we dare to deny they exist; we are in some odd fashion, denying our own toughness. We are wimps!
Fortunately, we'll no longer have to worry about it. Last week, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service declared the eastern cougar to be extinct. The Ghost Cat can now be removed from the endangered species list.
And if the federal government says it's true...what a relief! We can again sleep peacefully among the big pines and the rolling hills.
In fact, we haven't had to worry for nearly 80 years according to government researchers. They claim the eastern cougar subspecies has likely been extinct since the last cat was shot in Maine, way back in1938.
However, what researchers can't explain is the rash of sightings that are regularly reported from locations all across the northern forests, stretching from New Brunswick to New York and beyond.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service fully believes that some people have seen cougars, and that was an important part of the review that we did," explained Mark McCollough, a Fish and Wildlife Service biologist quoted in a press release.
McCollough headed up the agency's five-year effort that searched for evidence of a breeding population of eastern cougars. If the big cats were around, there would have to be evidence, beyond blurry photos and stories of screams in the night.
There would have to be scratching poles, and scent mounds and dens, and kits and kills. The big cats are opportunists, surely they would be found in a trap, shot, or photographed by at least one of the thousands of game cameras out there.
Yet, the stories persist. My own family members claim to have seen them. So do many of my friends, and numerous credible woodsmen. Even a couple of the DEC's own wildlife biologists have witnessed the cats in the wild.
I don't doubt that all of these people were seeing something, and it obviously looked like a cougar, but where did they come from and where did they go?
Although the US Fish and Wildlife Department couldn't locate a cougar after searching for five full years, it sure is nice to think that somebody still can. In some odd sort of way, it makes the local woods exciting... and we all need a little more excitement in our lives.
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.