Wolves, cougars; it's a balance | BrainerdDispatch.com | Brainerd, Minnesota

Wolves, cougars; it's a balance

Posted: February 5, 2012 - 5:52pm

There’s nothing like wolves and cougars to get people worked up.

In Minnesota, both topics have stirred emotions recently. The DNR announced a hunting season on wolves with a target of killing 400 per year. The move comes after the wolf population has rebounded so well they were taken off the federal protection list.

The bigger buzz now is news that a man has been charged for shooting a cougar in southwestern Minnesota this past fall.

It’s understandable that big, predatory animals stir something in humans. Mountain lions, wolves, grizzlies will prey on livestock and pets and on rare occasion attack humans. But the level of discourse, on both sides of these issues, is usually overwrought and uninformed.

While the man who shot the cougar will have his day in court, his statements about the event don’t bode well for him. Cougars are protected, there is no hunting season on them and they can only be shot when they’re an imminent threat to humans (not livestock).

The Jackson County man told authorities he got his gun after a neighbor saw the cougar, which had run into a culvert. The man flushed the cougar out of its hiding spot to shoot it.

Tough to see the imminent threat to humans — or to anything else, for that matter — in the cat taking cover in a drain culvert.

Some online responses to the charges pointed out that fact. But many were overwhelmingly against the dead cat. “Kill them all, they spread like wildfire” was representative of many respondents who fear, apparently, that kids will become regular prey in southern Minnesota.

Another spouted the folklore that the DNR has “released” cougars to keep the deer herd down.

Take a deep breath, folks.

Cougars are protected here for a reason: there’s very, very few of them. There have been a few more reports of cougars in southern Minnesota in recent years, but the elusive cats are a rarity. Them attacking humans is an even greater rarity.

There have been just 20 documented human deaths from cougars in the past 120 years in North America, most all in Canada and in the western and southwestern U.S. Many more people are killed by dogs, bee stings and snakes.

If the crowd chanting “the only good cougar is a dead cougar” is ill informed, the “never hunt a wolf” crowd is equally off base with most Minnesotans’ views on managing wild animals.

Despite the heightened rhetoric at times, most Minnesotans are comfortable with a simple premise: Humans have a need to manage wild animal populations. They must not cause the undue suffering of any wild or domestic animal, and they have a responsibility to protect animals from becoming extinct.

— Mankato Free Press