Predators Return

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(HOST) Whether or not you believe that there are catamounts still roaming the Green Mountains, commentator Ted Levin says that it’s very likely there soon will be.

(LEVIN) Although state records indicate that lions vanished from Iowa in 1867 and from the rest of the heartland by about 1900, in the past 12 months, 19 lions have been shot, hit by cars, captured or photographed throughout the Midwest. Some had freshly killed deer in their guts.

What accounts for these recent sightings? A resurgence of western lions began in the 1960s when several states changed their legal status from varmint to big game, with limited or no hunting season. As the number of lions began to exceed the land’s carrying capacity, young males began to disperse eastward, following wooded corridors along rivers into Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri.

What also favors lions is a glut of food. There are between 20 and 33 million white-tailed deer roaming the United States, a higher number than before European settlement. Both the regrowth of eastern forests and the expansion of posted rural and suburban zones favor deer, which eventually lure lions.

Every month I receive a newspaper published by the Department of the Interior, which chronicles federal projects and employees. An article in a recent issue mentions that the endangered species status of the eastern timber wolf, the population center of which is in Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, may be downgraded to threatened (though still protected).

Like lions, wolves are on the move. Dispersing young males have been reported in Indiana, Missouri, South Dakota, Ohio and Nebraska. Why is the range of the timber wolf expanding into a landscape that has been unoccupied by wolves for more than a century? The wolf, like the western mountain lion, may have reached carrying capacity in the northern Great Lake states. Wolves like deer, too. Closer to home, in Quebec, wolf packs are within fifty miles of the St. Lawrence River, and several individals have crossed the international boundry into northern Maine.

While we debate the reintroduction of wolves into the Northeast and argue whether mountain lions still roam the green hills, both predators are trying to reach us. The extent of undeveloped land from Maine to northern New York ought to be able support a self-sustaining community of wolves and lions, for the burgeoning population of Vermont deer, moose, beaver and wild turkey are a clear sign of a predator-friendly landscape.

Personally, I wish they’d hurry up and get here – even though I know there’s sure to be an uproar if and when they do.

This is Ted Levin from Coyote Hollow in Thetford Ctr.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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