Via MaxSpeak, a fascinating story in the Washington Post on the return of cougars (a.k.a. mountain lions, pumas and catamounts) to the midwest, specifically focusing on the rather over-the-top reaction in Iowa. The story seems pretty sound on the biology: cougars are now protected as big game animals in the western states, so their numbers are recovering there; some of the younger ones are dispersing in search of territory; and the exurbs and suburbs to the east are full of deer, with no remaining predators. Result: cougars in Iowa; and soon, no doubt, cougars back on the east coast. When I visited Penn State, I was very disappointed to learn that the "Nittany Lion" was long-extinct; that will change!
The most amusing detail, of course, is the conspiracy theory angle.
There are also rumors across the Midwest that state game agencies --- sometimes using black helicopters --- are secretly planting mountain lions in farm country. Before the Marshalltown meeting began, these rumors danced around the community center. Andrews, the state's leading expert on mountain lions, began his slide presentation by attacking the rumors head-on.
"We did not, we have not and we will not release mountain lions in Iowa," said Andrews, who handed out a document that repeated the denial in boldface type.
(There is a serious question of what to do about cougars; if they settle down in inhabited areas they will kill people from time to time, if only when intoxicated young idiots bait them. Perhaps there will be an equilibrium, given that there seems to be a gradient in people's hostility towards cougars, increasing as one moves east. That still leaves us the problem of the deer, which is basically the same as the problem of the geese. In all of these cases, appealing to the natural balance will not be helpful.)
Posted by crshalizi at December 17, 2004 14:54 | permanent link