Coral lawsuits today, but cougar lawsuits tomorrow?
Last week, the NOAA Fisheries announced the designation of critical habitat for the threatened elkhorn and staghorn corals. See prior ESA blawg (Dec. 1, 2008). The Center for Biological Diversity, however, has already announced its intention to challenge that action because it insufficiently considered global warming and ocean acidification threats. See ENN and sustainablebusiness.com news coverage.
While climate change threatens marine species like coral, cougar populations seem to be making a comeback in the Eastern U.S. An increase in cougar sightings was previously noted in a March 2003 National Geographic story, and both the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and Smithsonian.com have noted that more cougar attacks were reported in the western United States in the 1990s, with evidence suggesting that populations could be migrating eastward. Recent news reports provide substantially more anecdotal evidence that a shift in cougar populations may be underway. The Washington Times reports that representatives of the Eastern Puma Research Network insist that "There are mountain lions in Maryland," while biologists from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources disagree. While people debate, videotape footage of a cougar in Garrett County, and a reported 100 calls a year of mountain lion sightings in Maryland, strongly suggest that a big cat is indeed prowling about in Maryland. See also, The Cougar Network(discussing uncertain evidence from Delaware and the mid-Atlantic region.) Meanwhile, in Michigan, environmental organizations and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources engage in a similar disagreement over reported cougar sightings in the Lower Peninsula. See The Daily Tribune, and Michigan Citizens for Cougar Recognition. In New York's Lower Hudson Valley, a resident snapped a picture of a big cat in action, leading The Journal News to report that sightings of 'Mountain lions' puzzle experts. See picture and caption below. And in North Carolina, The News Observer reported that a local woman spotted a cougar, but her claim was disputed by a representative of the Orange County Animal Services. For a useful collection of cougar links, visit T&D's Cats of the World.
The good news for the cougar aside, these stories also suggest another phenomenon: the Endangered Species Act as the law of unintended consequences at work. As previously noted here at ESA blawg (Nov. 16, 2008), the demands of the ESA are intense. Can you really blame the state agencies for their caution? After all, even if the agencies in Maryland, Michigan, New York and North Carolina immediately diverted their limited resources and embraced new cougar protection strategies, how long would it be before the next lawsuit got filed?
The eastern cougar was declared an endangered species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in 1973. In the 1970s, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service tried to confirm the presence of eastern cougars in the Appalachian Mountains, but was not able to do so. Until recently, the only known remnant population in the eastern part of the continent was the endangered Florida panther. If you ever meet a cougar in the wild, here are some tips from Washington's Department of Fish and Game... (1) don’t run, a cougar’s instinct is to chase; (2) face the cougar, talk firmly, back up; (3) try to appear larger than the cougar; (4) do not take your eyes off the cougar or turn your back; (5) never approach the cougar, (6) if it shows signs of aggression, shout, wave your arms and throw anything you have available; and (7) if the cougar attacks, fight back (yes, self-defense is a viable option, even though harming the listed species violates the Endangered Species Act!) Photo of a cougar (also referred to as a mountain lion) spotted recently by a resident in Columbia County, N.Y., published online by the Lower Hudson Valley's The Journal News.