What Made That Big Track in the Park?

Long Lake, MN: Walking through Wolsfeld Woods today there was a 6″-plus paw track (no claws) on the path. Possibilities: cougar, bobcat, or lynx. My guess? Cougar, I guess.

Comparing tracks:
Cougar Tracks vs. Bobcat Tracks vs. Lynx Tracks

The cougar (or “mountain lion”) has been frequently sited in Minnesota but rarely confirmed (by photo or carcass). Per the DNR: “Since 2007, [we have] confirmed 14 cougar sightings.” In 2009 and again now in 2012 there has been an uptick in reports filed with the MN DNR.

The cougar may even have a tougher chance for survival in Minnesota than the wolf. Farmers rank at the top for most complaints because cougars have been known to attack livestock. But wildlife and environmental groups say cougars are part of the wildlife that makes Minnesota the great “north woods” state that it is.

It’s not just official complaints resulting in a decrease in the cougar’s population. Land fragmentation is a recurring theme from southern California across Montana to Colorado and all the way over to Minnesota then beyond to the East Coast. Cougars at one time traveled long distances to find a mate, from as far as South America northward to Canada. Without contiguous woodland corridors throughout the U.S. cougars find themselves disoriented and often unintentionally within farming or urban areas, where they’re more likely to become a nuisance.

There are few direct conservation resources for the cougar. One known effort is the Cougar Fund; however, the site reports that cougars are not in Minnesota when they have been confirmed to be here by several MN DNR reports and kills.

Hunting notes for Minnesota:
It’s illegal to shoot mountain lions or cougars in Minnesota unless they’re posing a direct threat. As land space becomes increasingly restricted new laws are sure to evolve. Recently a nonthreatening kill happened in Minnesota and the penalty is yet to be determined. Follow that story here.

More info. on Minnesota cougars:
Species profile
What to do if you see a cougar (and other facts)