MARQUETTE - Charges will be sought against two downstate men who are suspected of illegally killing a cougar in the Upper Peninsula.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources law enforcement officials said the cougar was killed last week in Schoolcraft County.
Acting on a tip a cougar was shot at a hunting camp in northeast Schoolcraft County, DNR conservation officers and Special Investigations Unit detectives recovered evidence and identified and apprehended two suspects from Bay County, according to a DNR press release.
Michigan Department of Natural Resources officials said they believe this cougar, photographed on a trail camera in Luce County earlier this month, was illegally shot in Schoolcraft County last week by two downstate men. (DNR photo)
Upon completion of a DNR investigation, the case will be turned over to the Schoolcraft County Prosecuting Attorney with warrant requests for charges.
The Michigan penalty for illegally killing a cougar is up to 90 days in jail and fines and restitution of up to $2,500.
DNR spokesman Ed Golder said the cougar is an endangered species in the state, having been added to the state's threatened and endangered species list in 1987.
"Any unlawful taking of wildlife is a serious matter," Golder said. "It is a particular concern when a threatened and endangered species is involved."
A trail camera of a cougar near the same area as the illegal shooting was recently confirmed as authentic by the DNR Wildlife Division. Wildlife officials said they believe the cougar killed likely was the same cougar seen in the photo.
Cougars, also known as mountain lions, disappeared from Michigan in the early 1900s. The last confirmed wild cougar in the state before 2008 was an animal killed near Newberry in 1906.
Since 2008, the DNR has confirmed photos or tracks of cougars 23 times in 10 U.P. counties. The animals are believed to be young individuals dispersing from established populations in states to the west in search of new territory.
There is no evidence of a breeding cougar population in Michigan, according to the DNR.
Lt. Skip Hagy, district law supervisor with the DNR's Newberry office, said the incident marked the first time a cougar was known to be illegally killed in the state. The last one legally killed was the 1906 Newberry animal.
Anyone with information about this incident or any other poaching case is encouraged to call the DNR's Report All Poaching hotline at 800-292-7800. Information also can be reported online at www.michigan.gov/conservationofficers. Tips and information can be left anonymously. Information that leads to arrest and conviction is eligible for a cash reward funded by the state's Game and Fish Protection Fund.
The Wildlife Division also requests reports of possible cougar sightings or evidence such as tracks, scat or cached kills. Photos and evidence should be reported to a local DNR office or through the DNR's online reporting form at www.michigan.gov/cougars.
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org