Though mountain lions once roamed the hills and forests of New York, persecution at the hands of humans drove them locally extinct. If we support open space conservation and preserve corridors connecting potential habitat, we could reverse this situation and bring mountain lions back home to New York.
Although mountain lions may be physically capable of living in an area, human activities and attitudes could keep them from reestablishing a population there.
Fragmentation, sport hunting practices, and intolerant communities can wipe out mountain lions from any area.
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Before European settlement, mountain lions roamed throughout New York and beyond. Perceived conflict with livestock, heavy hunting pressure, conversion of wildlands to agriculture and other forms of habitat loss drove the mountain lions of New York to local extinction.
Unlike many of the other eastern states, there has research specifically addressing potential habitat for mountain lions in New York. Research conducted by John Laundré took a landscape-level approach to assessing whether mountain lions could survive in Adirondack State Park in northern New York. Previous research recognized that conflict with humans is one of the biggest potential barriers to having a sustainable population on the East Coast. The greater the contact between mountain lions and humans, the higher the potential for conflict, with mountain lions on the losing end.
Results from Laundré's work paint an encouraging picture about whether there is sufficient habitat to support a self-sustaining population of mountain lions. His findings indicate that there are 15,300-17,000 square kilometers of suitable habitat within the park that would provide minimal human contact, adequate prey, and appropriate physical landscape. This are constitutes 61- 69% of the park, and could likely support a population of 150-350 cougars. Though this population would benefit from having gene flow from neighboring populations, a population of this size could survive for some time before feeling the negative impacts of inbreeding depression.
Providing an added benefit, a solidly established group in New York would help provide potential dispersing individuals to repopulate neighboring states. This site could provide a key Launchpad for mountain lion recovery across the Eastern Seaboard and into southern Canada.
Establishing mountain lion-friendly legislation and management practices will likely need to play a role in allowing this top carnivore to return to the great state of New York. Check out our Action Tab to see what you can do to help!