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The Cougar May Be Making Its Way Back To Vermont

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Current dispersal trends of the cougar show that the feline predator is headed east. Sue Morse, a professional animal tracker, believes that means cougars will, eventually, return to Vermont.

Last documented and killed in Vermont in 1881, the catamount, also known as a mountain lion or cougar, could be making its way back to the Green Mountain State.

After recent tracking of cougar movement in the Midwest, Sue Morse, founder and science director of Keeping Track, believes that it could just be a matter of time before the feline predator comes as far east as Vermont.

“In recent years, especially in the past 15 years, there has been a large expansion of cougars into the Midwest from new source populations that exist in the Dakotas,” Morse says. She explains that states to the east of the Dakotas, including Missouri, Illinois and Louisiana, have recently seen an increasing number of cougars “coming their way.”

"It's not to say that our habitat is completely restored and is as pristine and biodiverse as it once was, but there is cover and there is prey, which are the two things cougars need." - Sue Morse, professional animal tracker

So what has changed in recent years to make cougars move east? Morse says that dispersal is a natural phenomenon for predators trying to find their own home.

On why they might find a home back in Vermont, she says, “In the last 100 years, our habitat here in the greater northern Appalachians [has become] huge. A lot of it is re-forested … therein lies the opportunity for a forest predator, like the cougar, to find prey, like the deer.”

Morse says that although the landscape isn’t perfect for the cougar, it has the key factors it needs to survive. “It’s not to say that our habitat is completely restored and is as pristine and biodiverse as it once was … but there is cover and there is prey, which are the two things cougars need.”

She says that cougars could have a healthy and fulfilling life in the Green Mountain State. “There’s no reason why, once the cougar gets here, it wouldn’t have a perfectly normal life seeking out all the species that it always used to find here, including deer, moose, porcupines and beavers.”

"I don't have a crystal ball. I wish I could say it will happen tomorrow, or that it's happened already, but we don't know that. I know in my capacity as a professional tracker, I've never seen any scent marking evidence of cougars."

So when should we expect to see the majestic mountain lion in our back yards? Morse can’t quite say. “I don’t have a crystal ball. I wish I could say it will happen tomorrow, or that it’s happened already, but we don’t know that. I know in my capacity as a professional tracker, I’ve never seen any scent marking evidence of cougars,” Morse says.

Sue Morse is giving a talk called “Return of the Cougar” at the Richmond Library on Wednesday, Jan. 7 at 6:30 p.m.

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