Though mountain lions once roamed the hills and forests of Wisconsin, persecution at the hands of humans has driven them locally extinct in the state.
Fear and misinformation were the main forces driving this extirpation.
But attitudes have changed since the early 1900s and there's hope for the future.
If we support mountain lion-friendly legislation, open space conservation, and preserve corridors connecting potential habitat, we could reverse this situation and bring mountain lions back home to Wisconsin.
On March 2nd, 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service officially declared the eastern cougar to be extinct. Mountain lions used to roam the entire country, coast to coast, and the eastern cougar subspecies (Puma concolor couguar) occupied the northeast region. By the 1850s, hunting pressure had made mountain lions rare in the eastern two thirds of the continent. Mountain lions were functionally extinct in the Midwest by 1860, the mid-Atlantic states by 1882, in the south coastal states by 1886, in central Appalachia by 1900, and in New England by 1906.
In 2008, Wisconsin saw it's first confirmed mountian lion sighting on the
100 year anniversary of losing the last known mountain lion in the state in 1908.
As far as can be determined, all of these cats have been young males. Most of these individuals were likely born hundreds of miles away on the Wyoming-South Dakota border in the Black Hills. At least two of the recorded individuals passed through Wisconsin before being killed only after they traveled beyond the state. The remaining mountain lions sighted have disappeared; they were likely killed by humans but not reported.
The Milton-Chicago Cougar: The first cougar documented in modern times in Wisconsin was in January and March of 2008 in the southeastern part of the state, in Walworth and Rock counties. DNA from blood and urine were collected near Milton when the cat jumped out of the second story of an old barn on Jan. 18, 2008. This enabled DNR biologists determine that this particular individual was a male born in the Black Hills. The cougar left the area, traversed farmland and development and travelled southeast into Illinois. Miraculously, this cat somehow managed to evade detection as it made its way through increasingly dense development, ending up in a neighborhood in Chicago. Unfortunately this cat's story ended here, as it was shot by police on April 14, 2008.
From that time until 2016, cougars sightings were confirmed each and every year. In each case, the sighting was most likely a dispersing young male looking for a suitable territory with an available female. Most of these individuals disappeared without a trace; most likely shot and not reported to state officials. The most notable was the Champlin-Connecticut Cougar, aka The Walker. This cat was first documented in Champlin, a northern suburb of Minneapolis, on Dec. 5, 2009. He crossed the St. Croix River, a formidable waterway, and spent six months wandering the farms and forests of Wisconsin. Eventually he found his way into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. From there, our best guess is that he crossed the St. Marys River into Michigan, then east through Ontario, and eventually crossed the St. Lawrence River into New York State. After traversing hundreds of miles, fording treacherous rivers, crossing numerous highways, and passing within hundreds of armed humans, this amazing individual was eventually killed on a highway in Milford, Connecticut on June 11, 2011. Totalling over 1,500 miles, this journey is the longest ever recorded for a land mammal. The story of this cat is featured in Will Stolzenburg's Heart of a Lion (2016).
The most recent wild cougar documented in Wisconsin was captured by a remote camera on July 19, 2015. He was probably the same individual that had been recorded in the western half of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan beginning on April 18, 2015. A cougar carcass was discovered dead in a snare in February 1, 2015 near the Wisconsin border. No cougars have been confirmed in Wisconsin or adjacent states since then.
A map showing confirmations in modern times is here - http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/WildlifeHabitat/documents/CougarMap.pdf The map in the this website is based on the DNR map. Confirmations definitely and probably pertaining to the same individual are linked. As of early October 2016, confirmations of the Milton-Chicago cougar (2008) and the Spooner cougar (2009) were not shown.