MARQUETTE - The Michigan Department of Natural Resources has verified three new trail camera photos of mountain lions in the Upper Peninsula.
One of the cougars was photographed at night in northern Marquette County. The two others were photographed in Menominee County. All three of the photos were taken on private property.
DNR officials, who visited the sites, did not identify the property owners.
This trail camera photo shows a mountain lion on private property in northern Marquette County. It was one of three recent cougar sightings verified in the U.P., with the other two being in Menominee County. (Michigan Department of Natural Resources photo)
Since 2008, DNR Wildlife Division staff have verified the presence of cougars in the Upper Peninsula 20 times.
The DNR has confirmed 11 photos, eight separate sets of tracks and one trail camera video from 10 of the Upper Peninsula's 15 counties including Baraga, Chippewa, Delta, Houghton, Keweenaw, Mackinac, Marquette, Menominee, Ontonagon and Schoolcraft.
"The increasing number and frequency of verified cougar sightings in recent years are likely due to three factors in particular: The growing popularity of trail cameras used to monitor wildlife activity in the woods 24 hours a day, additional transient cougars moving east from established populations in western states as they seek new territory and the cooperation of the public in reporting cougar sightings and sharing their photos with us for official review, which we greatly appreciate," said Adam Bump, one of four DNR biologists trained to investigate cougar reports.
Of the Menominee County photos, both were taken in October and showed a mountain lion with a radio collar. One image was captured near Cedar River and the other just north of the Wisconsin border near Menominee.
The Marquette County photo of a cougar without a radio collar was taken in November. The Michigan DNR does not place radio collars on cougars. North Dakota and South Dakota are the nearest states where wildlife researchers have placed radio collars on cougars to track their movement.
In the fall of 2011, a radio-collared cougar was photographed in Ontonagon, Houghton and Keweenaw counties. Although the cougar recently photographed in Menominee County is wearing the same type of radio collar, DNR wildlife biologists are currently unable to determine whether this is the same animal or another transient that has dispersed from western states.
Established cougar populations are found as close to Michigan as the Dakotas, and transient cougars dispersing from these areas have been known to travel hundreds of miles in search of new territory. DNA evidence collected from a cougar hit and killed by a car in Connecticut in 2011 showed it had originated in western South Dakota.
Cougars were native to Michigan but disappeared from the state in the early 1900s. The last confirmed wild cougar in Michigan prior to 2008 was an animal killed near Newberry in 1906.
Cougars are classified as an endangered species in Michigan. It is unlawful to kill, harass or otherwise harm a cougar except in the immediate defense of human safety. To learn more about cougars and how to identify their tracks, visit www.michigan.gov/cougars.
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.