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Published February 20, 2012, 08:26 AM

Wolves, cougars; it's a balance

MANKATO, Minn. — There’s nothing like wolves and cougars to get people worked up. In Minnesota, both topics have stirred emotions recently.

By: Mankato (Minn.) Free Press, Agweek

MANKATO, Minn. — There’s nothing like wolves and cougars to get people worked up.

In Minnesota, both topics have stirred emotions recently.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has proposed a hunting season on wolves, with a target of killing 400 per year. The move comes after the wolf population has rebounded so well, they were taken off the federal protection list.

Cougar case

The bigger buzz now is news that a man has been charged for shooting a cougar in southwestern Minnesota this past fall. The news of misdemeanor charges brought a flood of highly charged comments from dozens of people on The Mankato (Minn.) Free Press website.

It’s understandable that big, predatory animals stir something in humans. Mountain lions, wolves and grizzlies will prey on livestock and pets, and, on rare occasion, attack humans. But the level of discourse, on both sides of these issues, is usually overwrought and uninformed.

While the man who shot the cougar will have his day in court, his statements about the event don’t bode well for him. Cougars are protected. There is no hunting season on them and they only can be shot when they’re an imminent threat to humans (not livestock).

The Jackson County, Minn., man told authorities he got his gun after a neighbor saw the cougar, which had run into a culvert. The man flushed the cougar out of its hiding spot to shoot it.

Tough to see the imminent threat to humans — or to anything else, for that matter — in the cat taking cover in a drain culvert.

Some online responses to the charges pointed out that fact. But many were overwhelmingly against the dead cat.

“Kill them all, they spread like wildfire” was representative of many respondents who fear, apparently, that kids will become regular prey in southern Minnesota.

Another spouted the folklore that the DNR has “released” cougars to keep the deer herd down.

Take a deep breath, folks.

Cougar attacks rare

Cougars are protected in Minnesota for a reason: there are very few of them. There have been a few more reports of cougars in southern Minnesota in recent years, but the elusive cats are a rarity. Cougars attacking humans is an even greater rarity.

There have been just 20 documented human deaths from cougars in the past 120 years in North America, most all in Canada and in the Western and Southwestern U.S. Many more people are killed by dogs, bee stings and snakes.

Reasonable management

If the crowd chanting “the only good cougar is a dead cougar” is ill informed, the “never hunt a wolf” crowd is equally off base with most Minnesotans’ views on managing wild animals.

Wolves have made a marvelous rebound, with Minnesota home to more wolves than any other state except Alaska. The large number means more livestock and pet deaths. The population will hold at the size it is even if the hunting goals are reached each year.

Despite the heightened rhetoric at times, most Minnesotans are comfortable with a simple premise: Humans have a need to manage wild animal populations. They must not cause the undue suffering of any wild or domestic animal, and they have a responsibility to protect animals from becoming extinct.