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A Mountain Lion

It was interesting to learn this week that the mountain lion killed in Connecticut last month was not a domesticated escapee, but a true wildcat. It had not been de-clawed or neutered, the usual practice among those who keep big cats as pets. The 140-pound male had also had a run-in with a porcupine, since it still carried some quills embedded in its skin.
The biggest surprise came from the DNA tests, which showed this animal had originated in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The DNA samples also matched samples taken from scat found in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It may have been the same animal spotted last year in Michigan.

So where does this leave us in the debate over whether or not there is a native population of mountain lions in New England?

Just last spring the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service declared them extinct here. But they were talking about the eastern panther, or catamount, a closely-related species – possibly a subspecies – of the western mountain lion. This one in Connecticut was an outsider.

Wildlife “officials” have consistently dismissed the notion that there could still be mountain lions roaming the woods of New England. Whenever a sighting is reported, they put it down as a case of mistaken identity. When they’re confronted with evidence such as scat or tracks, then they say it must be an escapee.

On the other hand, wildlife biologists, researchers generally connected with colleges or universities, are much more inclined to accept the possibility of a small native population living in the more remote areas. They point out there plenty of remote areas with abundant food, and so there would be no reason for them to come in contact with humans.

This most recent case is a good example. The immediate reaction of officials was that it had to be an escapee. They clearly could not deny the carcass in front of them was a mountain lion. Then, when the later examination revealed that it was indeed a wild cat, the commissioner of the Connecticut Dept. of Energy and Environmental Protection declared it an “anomaly,” and that there was no proof that there were others in the region.

I suppose it could be argued either way, but what puzzles me most is why “officials” – not just in Connecticut but all over New England – are so adamant in their position that there is no population of mountain lions in New England. It could well be that the native catamount is gone, but given the number of sightings all over New England, it now seems more likely that we may have a new population of western mountain lions.

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Would you want to see this little guy go extinct?

Pity the poor mudpuppy.

These foot-long salamanders spend their entire lives scrounging around the bottom of lakes and streams. They have almost no contact with humans other than as curiosities and objects of study, pose no threat, nor do they add to the regional economy. They are an important part of the food chain, feeding on whatever they happen to come across, and in turn,
becoming a food source for herons and similar birds and larger fishes.

Wildlife biologists in Vermont say their figures show that the species is in danger of extinction and should be placed on the state’s endangered species list. The policymakers at Vermont Fish and Wildlife see it differently.

Mudpuppies share the same habitat with the larva of sea lampreys, a species native to Lake Champlain, but considered a nuisance because the adults attack popular game fish such as trout and land-locked salmon. State and federal wildlife officials have mounted an aggressive campaign to control the sea lampreys, which includes poisoning the larvae. It’s also been killing off the mudpuppies.

To the guardians of recreational fishermen, dead mudpuppies are considered unavoidable “collateral damage.” To those who value the region’s biodiversity, the program represents a serious threat to the ecosystem.

Putting the mudpuppy on the endangered species list means wildlife officials would have to a lot more careful about how they go about controlling the sea lampreys. These officials argue that the lamprey population is booming, and causing a lot of harm. They say other nontoxic methods of control are not as effective.

It’s the old story of competing interests. Without a doubt the lampreys are a nuisance, and recreational fishing is a large part of the Lake Champlain economy. The problem here is that the mudpuppies are disappearing, while lampreys continue to thrive. It’s always sad to see a species go into extinction, but even sadder if we push them there for no particular purpose.

Water Chestnut chokes a waterway

After years of fighting polluters and cleaning up the river, defenders of the Nashua River are grappling with yet another threat – the water chestnut. Yet another Eurasian invasive species, Trapa natans has been clogging American waterways since the late 1800s. By the way, this is not the same as the crunchy water chestnut found in Asian food recipes.

There’s only one safe and reliable way to control it – yank it out. A mechanical harvester has been doing that in the areas of greatest infestation.

Now a joint effort by several local groups, including the Nashua River Watershed Association, Ducks Unlimited, the Groton Greenway Committee and Nashoba Paddlers, are calling for volunteers to come out Sunday morning to scout out and help clear new areas of infestation.

If you’re interested, the organizers are asking you to register by calling the NRWA at (978) 448-0299

Andrew Wyeth's 1948 painting "Christina's World"

I was happy to learn that the Olson farm in Cushing, Maine, was added to the list of National Historic Landmarks yesterday.

My family spent many summers in the 1950s and 1960s in a cabin not far from there, and my parents knew many people in the area. Andrew Wyeth was spending his summers there at the time, painting the people and landscapes. I was fairly young when my parents took me to the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland, Maine, to see a Wyeth exhibit there. It was my first experience with an art museum, and I’ve been going back ever since.

“Christina’s World” was the first work of art that caught my attention. I saw it on that first visit, and I remember my parents having to pull me away from it. I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve since seen it a few other times.

Years later, in the late 1970s I think, I went back to find the farmhouse. The Olsons had all passed away, and the farmhouse stood empty, though it was being taken care of. I went down through the field to try to position myself in the same spot that Christina would have been in the painting. It came as a bit of a shock to realize that directly behind her, though not shown in the painting, is a small family cemetery where she is now buried.

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