Cougars Are on the Rise in Wisconsin


The cliché refrain is that only two things come out of Wisconsin. Well, let’s make that three. Because now there are cougars. So, trees, cheese, and cougars. Yes, cougars in Wisconsin.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources in 2008 confirmed that a cougar, also known as a mountain lion, was roaming the state for the first time in a century. Today, such sightings continue.

The DNR has confirmed at least one cougar sighting every year since 2008, and three of them occurred this last July. Two trail-camera photos taken July 9 six miles and 20 hours apart showed a cougar in Langlade County. Then on July 19, a trail camera 60 miles away in Marinette County documented the third sighting.

Sighting the big cats as far north as Wisconsin is an interesting development for the ecosystem there; and in fact the DNR has verified cougar sightings in 17 counties in the state. This could lead some to believe there is actually a breeding population of cougars in Wisconsin, but some wildlife biologists think the sightings are multiples of the same cat.

In fact, the six cougars have been identified through DNA samples from hair, blood, urine, or feces samples were males from South Dakota’s Black Hills, more than likely juveniles passing through on futile searches to establish breeding territories. 

Obviously a breeding population of any animal needs at least one female. Consider the Jersey Shore, for example. Of course it is possible a female cougar could live in Wisconsin and has simply not yet been detected, but the general consensus is that none have made it that far.

And anyway, Iowa and Minnesota have yet to verify a breeding cougar population. And any cougars born in South Dakota must pass through Iowa or Minnesota to reach Wisconsin. Still, it is clear the cougars are expanding their range, which is a thing the cats do gradually.

In other cougar news, California officials want to build a natural bridge over the busy US 101 freeway specifically designed for big cats. Only one confirmed case of a mountain lion successfully crossing the freeway is known. Although hunted in some states, hunting cougars in Wisconsin is prohibited and the cats are not considered dangerous to humans. For information on how to be mountain lion aware click here.

Photo courtesy: Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources