It's Official: Feds Declare The Catamount Extinct

Jan 24, 2018

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says there is no evidence that the catamount is still roaming in the Northeast, and the federal agency has officially removed the large cat from the federal endangered species list.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service made a determination in 2015 about the eastern puma — commonly known as "the catamount" — and opened up the opportunity for public and peer comments.

This week the federal agency issued its final rule declaring that the eastern puma is extinct and took the animal off of the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.

Vermont Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter says even though the federal designation comes as no surprise, it does require a moment of reflection.

"Any time you have to acknowledge that a subspecies or a population has disappeared, you know, that's a failure that we have to face up to and acknowledge," Porter said. "Our mission is to protect all species in the state and make sure that they aren't eliminated. The federal government has a mission of doing the same on a national scale. And so it is a somber, although not unexpected, development."

"Any time you have to acknowledge that a subspecies or a population has disappeared, you know, that's a failure that we have to face up to and acknowledge. ... And so it is a somber, although not unexpected, development." — Louis Porter, Vermont Fish and Wildlife commissioner

Once a specific animal is removed from the endangered species list and it is determined to be extinct, states can consider reintroducing other members of its species into the wild.

In a press release from the Center for Biological Diversity, conservation advocate Michael Robinson called on states in the northeast to consider bringing large cats back.

"We need large carnivores like cougars to keep the wild food web healthy, so we hope eastern and Midwestern states will reintroduce them," Robinson said in the release. "Cougars would curb deer overpopulation and tick-borne diseases that threaten human health."  

Porter says there have been no talks with nearby states to reintroduce western cougars into the wild here.

"It's not something we are considering or thinking about. A predator of this size can be involved in a lot of conflicts with people, or with livestock, so there's a potential with any predator of this size to have conflicts with humans," said Porter. "The territory that they need and the conditions they need would be difficult to find in Vermont. They need large pieces of unbroken land to roam."

Porter also says the catamount remains protected under Vermont law, even though U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has removed it from the federal endangered species list.

The eastern cougar once roamed across the eastern U.S. and Canada. However the last catamount that was killed in Vermont was shot in 1881, and one killed in Maine in 1938 was the last killed in New England.

There was a cougar killed in Connecticut in 2011. But wildlife officials say the animal was most likely from South Dakota, and it traveled across the country, through New York state, before it was hit by a car on the highway about 70 miles north of New York City.