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DNR online chat leads to issues raised about cougar sightings


GREEN BAY, WI (WTAQ) - The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources answered about 200 questions during an Internet chat regarding cougars in the state.

It's clear from the online exchanges that increased cougar sightings around the state have raised both curiosity and concern.

The DNR says it is apparent more cougars are moving into Wisconsin. There were five confirmed sightings in 2009. This year, it's double. Wildlife officials report 10 so far, and say they know of at least three different cats that have traveled in the state. 

FOX 11 reports that during the "Ask the Experts" chat, one person asked how many cougars Wisconsin could support. The DNR guessed quite a few. 

"We don't really know that much about the state's carrying capacity. I guess based on their need for heavily forested areas, and their feeding on deer and larger herbivores like that, we can probably estimate it would be in the hundreds," said carnivore ecologist Adrian Wydeven. 

Ecologists added there is no evidence of breeding populations, as there have been no female cougars confirmed here. Until that happens, they suspect there won't be any "resident" mountain lions. 

Right now, there are just a handful passing through at a time which appear to come from South Dakota. 

Some taking part in the chat accused the DNR of downplaying the number of cougars, and even introducing them into the state. 

"We hear that all the time from people who think there are a lot more cougars in the state than what we've been able to detect, and of course what we're detecting is a minimum of what people are reporting to us and what we're able to confirm," said Wydeven. 

Others wondered if the deer population may be impacted by the number of cougars in the state. DNR officials said they believe it's unlikely. 

"With the number of animals we've been able to detect, the impact on the deer population is going to be nil," Wydeven said. 

One woman asked what to do if she encounters a cougar. The DNR said cougars mostly try to avoid people, but added: Don't run, make yourself look as big as possible, and keep your eyes on the cougar as you slowly back away. 

DNR officials say they encourage reports, photos and video from the public to help get an accurate count of cougars. The agency added it does not currently have a management plan for the wild animal. It's just trying to learn as much as it can about any cougars coming into the state, and try to deal with any nuisance problems.