The controversy over the elusive cougars of southern Monroe County was renewed yesterday with an announcement by the Michigan Wildlife Conservancy, a cougar proponent, that additional analyses confirm their presence.
The announcement immediately was refuted by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, which contends its own experts and consultants have presented contrary findings.
Last April, householder Carol Stokes, whose Sylvania property abuts the Ohio-Michigan line, videotaped what she believed to be a pair of cougars, or mountain lions, slinking along the edge of a Whiteford Township woodlot. She quickly notified authorities, and the rest is controversy.
In any case, no reports of cougar trouble have surfaced in the interim.
The MWC, a Bath, Mich., private conservation and education organization, quickly stepped in to support the view that the Stokes video indeed contained footage of cougars on the move. The organization long has held that Michigan is home to a natural, wild population of these cats, which can grow up to four-and-a-half feet long, not including a three-foot tail, and weigh 80 to 200 pounds.
MWC last July released a video report, including the Stokes footage and containing a detailed analysis of the site plus various measurements of distance and size. Its contentions later were debunked by the Eastern Cougar Network, another private pro-cougar organization but one which contends that the MWC/Stokes video just showed common house cats.
Stepping up in support of MWC this round is David Townshend of Forensic Examination Service located in Mason, Mich. Townshend is a former detective lieutenant with the Michigan state police crime laboratory with national credentials in forensics.
He conducted an on-site inspection of the Whiteford Township cougar site, and shot video of a house cat and objects of other known size at the exact distance of the Stokes sighting, 346 yards. He concluded that the cats in the Stokes video were cougar-size, standing 31 1/2 and 23 1/2 inches tall at the shoulder.
Townshend also asserted that a house cat could not even have been seen through corn stubble at 346 yards.
"His report should end any speculation that optical illusions could have made ordinary house cats look huge," contends Dennis Fijalkowski, MWC executive director. "The faulty analysis of the Connecticut-based cougar network [ECN] and other skeptics was due to their failure to understand the methods used by experts to establish scale in video and photographs, and erroneous assumptions about the behavior and posture of cougars.
"Cougar protection and management in Michigan is a serious issue that demands careful analysis of all evidence, not shots from the hip from people 1,000 miles away."
The latest MWC findings and contentions do not quite fall on deaf ears at the MDNR, but
official skepticism remains.
"It's kind of interesting that they don't recognize that it wasn't just the Eastern Cougar Network [in opposition]," said Ray Rustem, supervisor of the MDNR's Natural heritage unit, about critics of the MWC position. "The ECN has a number of experts across the U.S. that took a look at the [Stokes] video."
Rustem noted that the MDNR called in a state police forensics expert, who contended that the analytical methods used by MWC and supporters were not appropriate to determining size.
The department still contends that Michigan does not have a wild, naturally occurring, breeding population of cougars. "We've never denied there's a possibility there might be some animals out there," Rustem
acknowledged. "The question is, where are they?"
Rustem said that he holds open the possibility that a wild cougar might wander into the western upper peninsula, for example, because Minnesota has a cougar population and one could drift east through Wisconsin. But wild cougars in the lower peninsula are another matter. A tenuous one, he adds.
The MDNR supervisor said he continues to question the MWC theory that the state has a wild remnant cougar population. Sightings, if true, likely are those of released or escaped captive animals, he said.
Tomorrow - Naturalists' Camera Club of Toledo, 7:30 p.m., Secor
Metropark Nature Photography Center, Central Avenue entrance, program by Bill Blanton on the historic and scenic Maumee River; call Adele Shelton 419-474-2911.
Tomorrow and Monday - Public trapshoot, 6 p.m., Wolf Creek Sportsmen's Association, 349 Teachout Rd., north of State Rt. 2, Curtice; voice-activated traps now available; also, fish fry Friday with trapshoot; call Rick Ferguson, 419-836-5264.
Tomorrow through Jan. 23 - Annual Cleveland Mid-America Boat Show, I-X Center next to Hopkins International Airport, Cleveland; call Shawn Fergus at 440-899-5009 or visit the show Web site, www.ClevelandBoatShow.com.
Saturday - Third annual Northern Ohio Fly Tying Expo, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Croatian Lodge and Party Center, 34900 Lake Shore Blvd., Eastlake, Ohio, just east of Cleveland; among featured tyers are Toledo-area notables Chris Helm, Dick Walle, Glenn Weisner, and Wayne Samson; for details visit the event Web site, www.expo2005.ncff.net, or call Joe Valencic 440-255-8216.
Saturday - Toledo Naturalists' Association, 7:30 p.m., Andersons' activity center, 1833 South Holland-
Sylvania Rd., program on wading birds of West Sister Island by Julie Shieldcastle, executive director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory.
Sunday - Bowshoots: Polar bear shoot and chili cookoff, Tomahawk Archers, 2085 Erie Rd., Temp-
erance, Mich., register 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., call Gil Kollarik 419-691-5130; also, Maybee Sportsmen's Club, 11490 Hoffman Rd., Maybee, Mich., register 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 30 3-D tar-
gets, call Jim Lloyd 734-529-8205.
Contact Steve Pollick at: