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Protect the Adirondacks starts record of cougar sightings

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Protect the Adirondacks has started a record of public sightings of cougars in the Adirondack Park and Northern New York to help determine whether the many anecdotal reports of the big cats over the years have validity.

“There’s been a long controversy over whether cougars are here in the Adirondacks,” Protect Executive Director Peter D. Bauer said. “We’re attempting to see that. Are they coming through and with what regularity?”

Protect will manage a database of all reports it receives and will investigate sightings based on available information.

If it receives a group of reports for a specific geographic area, it will work with wildlife experts to determine the presence of cougars.

Reports can be filed at http://wdt.me/DPrXMs. The organization’s website also lists a number of tips on how to tell the difference among cougars, bobcats and lynxes.

The project follows the work of Peter V. O’Shea, Fine, a naturalist, author and Protect board member who for many years tracked sightings of cougars.

Mr. O’Shea had noted several hundred sightings of cougars since the early 1990s.

“It’s been several years since he has actively been doing it,” Mr. Bauer said. “We’re mostly interested in current sightings. We’re really looking forward.”

With cellphone cameras and global positioning systems, sightings and pinpointing locations may be a lot easier than in the past.

“There’s a lot of information that can be obtained right on the side of the road,” Mr. Bauer said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined cougars are extinct in the eastern U.S., but they are found in large numbers elsewhere in the country. A recent study in Canada found 19 positive identifications of cougars in Quebec and New Brunswick. DNA results showed that some of the specimens were from South America — generally believed to have come from abandoned pets — while others were of North American origin.

“People are seeing them far and wide,” Mr. Bauer said. “The big question is whether any breeding is going on.”

Sightings in the western Adirondacks are not uncommon.

“Two or three years ago, somebody said they saw one in Cranberry. I don’t know if it was true,” Fine Supervisor Mark C. Hall said. “I’d like to see one in my car and not while walking in the woods.”

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