Early in the week, the region finally received the first significant snowfall of the season. Of course, the snow didn't arrive until after the hunting season had ended.
This year's season proved to be one of the warmest and snow-free hunting seasons on record. Without snow cover for tracking, the odds of seeing deer fall firmly on the side of the whitetail.
It was a long season and I'm glad it's over. Now, I hope to focus my attention on those plump, ruffed grouse that were so evident when I had a deer rifle in my hand.
For the sake of the local economy, I hope the current snowstorm is significant enough to jump start the ski season. If not, it appears that there's more on the way.
It's amazing the different scene that a few inches of fresh snow can produce. A carpet of snow can instantly obliterate the accumulated debris of a season, with a fresh, clean, white scene.
Cougars in the news
North Country Public Radio (NCPR) recently aired a two part series on mountain lions in the North Country. The program revealed a growing number of mountain lion sightings that have been reported across the region. The NCPR report also detailed an alleged mountain lion attack on horses that occurred this summer in St. Lawrence County this past summer.
I have visited the topic of mountain lions in previous articles and I continue to receive numerous emails, letters and phone calls regarding such sightings. Although I have never witnessed a lion, I firmly believe what others have reported, including my own siblings.
Known as a Ghost cat, Catamount, Puma, Painter, Panther, Mountain lion or Cougar, the nation's largest cat was at one time distributed across the North American continent from southern Canada to the tip of South America.
However, there has been no solid evidence of its existence in the Adirondacks since the last bounty was paid in the late 1880's. Oddly, the last cougar in New York was taken in St. Lawrence County, where the towns of Degrasse, Russell and Canton remain a hot bed of most recent sightings.
Current cougar knowledge
Most outdoor travelers recognize and understand the restorative aspects of nature. It's a fact that is evident when one witnesses how rapidly a field returns to forest. Nature works quickly.
Consider the fact that moose have repatriated the park with a viable breeding population in less than 30 years and accomplished the feat without any human intervention. They came back on their own when the time, and the land, was ripe.
Beaver, considered extinct at the turn of the century, were restocked in the Adirondacks beginning in the early 1900's. By the early 1920's, beaver were so plentiful that the state was forced to reopen a trapping season on the animal.
Currently, the park's beaver population is considerable. In fact, wildlife biologists believe it was the beaver that actually brought back the moose, through the creation of new wetland habitat.
In the west, mountain lion populations have already started to boom, with states like Montana, Wyoming, and Colorado declaring the cats completely recovered. Officials believe that changes in habitat are responsible for cougar returning to Northwest Kansas, Minnesota, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee and Iowa.
A population of nearly 500 cats is believed to inhabit southern Ontario's Algonquin Park. There have also been sightings reported in Vermont, New Brunswick, Quebec, Maine and Massachusetts.
Some believe that the slow reappearance of the animals in the east could be the movements of these large ranging cats.
Increased protection of wild lands and reduced human hunting pressure may have helped cougar and other predators by protecting the animals and the prey they eat. "Nationwide, there's obviously a wildlife population expansion that's occurring," explained an official with the Kansas Department of Wildlife, "In the prairie and Midwest, predators like black bears, wolves, and bobcats are beginning to return to spots where they haven't been seen in years. While most news about the environment may be of doom and gloom, I think the cougar is a real wildlife success story."
Cougars in the East
Despite such facts, New York state wildlife biologists do not believe that there is a cougar comeback occurring in the state. They cite a lack of physical evidence such as scat, hair, DNA or a carcass.
With the growing popularity of 'Trail Cameras,' there's a strong likelihood that somebody would eventually capture a photo of a cat. Likewise, the train of thought goes, if cougars are often being witnessed along the roadways, someone would eventually discover a roadkilled cat.
Others chalk the sightings up to a case of mistaken identity or released cats. The released cat theory is highly credible. The United States has a huge, underground market for exotic cats, such as African lions, tigers and even mountain lions.
While cute at a young age, these cats become increasingly aggressive and dominant. Even after owners have them declawed, they are still dangerous animals.
Tired of the liabilities of owning a dangerous cat, and no longer able to afford the 8-10 pounds of meat the cats require daily, it's understandable that an owner can come to release a pet into the wild.
The most farfetched, yet commonly reported mountain lion story is the theory that the state, with the knowledge and/or assistance of various environmental groups, has been secretly releasing mountain lions and/or wolves across the park for many years.
How, why or with what funds the groups have accomplished such a secret feat has never been fully explained to me. In the story, the 'Men in Black' now wear green and never tell anybody what they're up to. Witnesses claim that "state officials," (usually a local Environmental Conservation Officer) secretly take a microchip out of the dead cat and swear the witnesses to silence. If this is the case, we better bundle our children and lock the door whenever they come by in that spaceship with flashing lights.
Released animals, never having fended for themselves in the wild, often show little fear of humans. In fact, some believe they will gravitate toward humans looking for food.
Possibly, this explains why there seem to be a number of cougar sitings in one location for about a month, then the cats are never again seen.
It would be very difficult for a declawed cat to obtain food or to defend itself from dogs. Without claws, a cat couldn't climb a tree to escape a pack of dogs or coyotes. This may also explain why no one ever finds the remains of cats. As a rule, coyotes generally don't leave much behind. Despite numerous pockets of wild, remote lands, wildlife officials do not believe that a viable, self-sustaining population of mountain lions exists in the park. Most experts agree that the released pet theory explains the majority of such sightings.
However, nature is rarely reliable, it remains in a state of flux. The likelihood of cougars traveling a wildlife corridor from Ontario's Algonquin Park across the St. Lawrence River into New York, as some have suggested, is quite feasible.
However, I still can't understand how such a cat could travel unseen from the St. Lawrence River to Willsboro or Minerva, Newcomb or McKeever, Thurman or Thendara or any of the two dozen other locations that I've relieved reports from.
For further information or to report cougar sightings please visit the Eastern cougar Network at www.cougarnet.org\Northeast.htm
Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org