FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 20, 2023
Contact: Shelby Perry, Shelby@newildernesstrust.org, or 802 224-1000 x107
Montpelier, VT — New research published by Northeast Wilderness Trust, Panthera and other national and international partners reveals seven northeastern landscapes, collectively spanning nearly 45,000 square miles, each large enough and wild enough to potentially host healthy cougar populations.
Published in Biodiversity and Conservation, the study analyzed landscapes across the Eastern U.S. to pinpoint those suitable for cougars (also called mountains lions, panthers, catamounts, and pumas) which have been making their way East to places they once roamed freely before eradication efforts. Researchers considered not only the size of each landscape when making their determinations, but also other factors important for cougar survival like snow depth, housing and livestock density, forest cover, and human perspectives on wildlife.
“What’s exciting about this research is that it shows the Northeast has not just space but expansive wild landscapes that have the right conditions to support a large carnivore and keep it safe,” says Shelby Perry, Wildlands Ecologist at Northeast Wilderness Trust, and one of the paper’s authors. “That’s huge for how we approach rewilding and land conservation in this region.”
The seven regional landscapes range from approximately 2,500 square miles (the size of Delaware) to 10,000 square miles (nearly three times the size of Yellowstone National Park) and include parts of New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Northeast Wilderness Trust is actively working to protect forever-wild ecosystems in many of these places through land purchase and conservation easements. Notably, the organization recently purchased a key inholding in Adirondack Park’s Five Ponds Wilderness, the 1,056-acre Bear Pond Forest. This is the just the type of wilderness that could appeal to eastward cougars searching for mates and territories, like the “Connecticut Cat” that famously made its way from South Dakota’s Black Hills to the Twin Cities suburbs, through Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula before showing up in Greenwich, Connecticut.
“This research makes clear that the question we ought to be asking about cougars coming back home to the Northeast is not about suitable habitat or available prey—the Northeast has plenty of both—it’s whether people are ready to once again share this place with these magnificent animals,” says Jon Leibowitz, Northeast Wilderness Trust’s Executive Director.
Shy and adaptable, cougars are known for living alongside humans with little conflict. Research shows they also bring tremendous ecological benefits to places they inhabit. By interacting with nearly 500 other living beings, everything from deer to birds to foxes and even insects, they ensure ecosystem health and resilience.
“When ecosystems are whole —that’s when we experience the full benefits nature and the wild have to offer us all,” says Northeast Wilderness Trust Senior Fellow Tom Butler, “and it’s why our mission remains critical.”
To access the full study, see here: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10531-022-02529-z#:~:text=For%20habitat%20to%20be%20considered,puma%20populations%20in%20the%20East.Hope
To read an op-ed published in the New York Times by one of the study’s lead authors, Dr. Mark Elbroch of Panthera, see here: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/12/opinion/cougars-migrating-east.html
Northeast Wilderness Trust: Northeast Wilderness Trust is a regional land trust focused exclusively on protecting wilderness areas—lands permanently protected as forever-wild, where natural processes direct the ebb and flow of life. With its headquarters in Vermont, staff in multiple states, and board members across the Northeast, the Wilderness Trust (newildernesstrust.org) protects more than 73,000 acres in New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.