MARQUETTE - The nonprofit Michigan Wildlife Conservancy released a cougar photograph from southern Marquette County Wednesday, which the group says may be the clearest picture of a wild cougar taken so far in the state.
The conservancy, based in downstate Bath, said the cougar was photographed by a cased and padlocked trail camera on private property June 1. The property owners shared the information with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, but did not want to be publicly identified.
DNR wildlife biologist Adam Bump said the agency is familiar with the camera's location and has confirmed the photo is authentic.
This cougar was photographed by a trail camera on June 1 on private property in southern Marquette County. (Photo courtesy of the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy)
Patrick Rusz, director of wildlife programs for the conservancy, and Michael Zuidema, a retired DNR forester, verified the trail camera's location on a well-worn wildlife trail atop a wooded ridge. The camera has also photographed wolves, coyotes, fishers and numerous other species at the same site over a four-year period, the conservancy said.
The conservancy said it is publicizing the photograph because it may be the best, clearest photograph of a wild Michigan cougar ever taken. The group said it is also "unusually interesting" because Zuidema has recorded more than 20 credible cougar sightings in the same vicinity since the 1970s, including several sightings within a few miles of the trail camera location.
Rusz said that "the long history of sighting reports in the area indicates the cougar photographed on June 1 may be part of a resident population rather than a wandering cat from a western state."
The DNR says it has verified the presence of cougars in Michigan at least 15 times in recent years. But the agency says there's no evidence of breeding activity and believes the cats are probably wandering through the state from elsewhere, while the wildlife conservancy believes Michigan has a resident cougar population.
Prior to the new Marquette County photo, the most recent DNR cougar confirmation occurred in May when a cougar was photographed with a hand-held camera near Skanee in Baraga County. That photograph was taken about 50 miles north of the Marquette County trail camera location, according to the conservancy.
"The MDNR cougar team should now look at the very good evidence of a remnant cougar population collected before 2008," said Bill Taylor, conservancy president. "They could still easily verify cougar photos taken in the 1990s in Alcona and Oscoda Counties in the Lower Peninsula and some others. The vegetation and other landmarks needed to confirm the photos are still there."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is jpepin@miningjournal. net.