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Friday, August 24, 2012

Citizen Science! Fun For The Whole Family

This article is from our September-October issue of our newsletter "The Wildlife Volunteer".

The Michigan Wildlife Conservancy (MWC) recently confirmed the presence of a cougar in Southern Marquette County.  The cougar was photographed by a cased and padlocked trail camera on private property on June 1, 2012.  The property owners do not wish to be publicly identified, but are members of the MWC.    

Dr. Patrick Rusz, Director of Wildlife Programs for the Conservancy, and Michael Zuidema, a retired DNR forester, verified the trail camera’s location on a well-worn wildlife trail atop a wooded ridge.  The camera has also photographed wolves, coyotes, fishers and numerous other species at the same site over a four-year period.  In late June, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources also confirmed the authenticity of the cougar photo.

The MWC publicized this photograph because it may be the best, clearest photograph of a wild Michigan cougar ever taken.  It is also unusually interesting because Mr. Zuidema has recorded over 20 credible cougar sightings in the same vicinity since the 1970s.  These include several sightings within a few miles of the trail camera location.

Dr. Rusz stated that “the long history of sighting reports in the area indicates the cougar photographed on June 1 may be part of a resident population rather than a wandering cat from a western state.”  Dr. Rusz has studied cougars for the Conservancy for 14 years and is co-author of a peer-reviewed study that confirmed cougars in both peninsulas of Michigan by analyses of DNA in droppings.  He has also compiled a long list of additional physical evidence dating back to 1966, and notes that Michigan State College zoologist Richard Manville documented several cougar sightings or incidents when he inventoried the fauna of Marquette County’s Huron Mountains from 1939 to 1942. 
The large volume of recent Michigan evidence includes 17 MDNR confirmations since the agency formed a cougar team of specially trained biologists in 2008.   These confirmations include one last May when a cougar was photographed with a hand-held camera near Skanee in Baraga County.  That photograph was taken about 50 miles north of the Marquette County trail camera location.  

“The MDNR cougar team should now look at the very good evidence of a remnant cougar population collected before 2008,” said Bill Taylor, President of the Conservancy.  “They could still easily verify cougar photos taken in the 1990’s in Alcona and Oscoda Counties in the Lower Peninsula and some others.  The vegetation and other landmarks needed to confirm the photos are still there.”
Citizen science is a phrase often used to describe the active participation of our citizens in the collection of information about wildlife.  Citizen-science projects can involve observing, censusing or documenting certain species, or the actual collection of specimens for study.  As state and federal wildlife budgets become more strained the need for “citizen science” collected information will become a necessity.

On the next page is an excellent example of citizen science in action.  Here an outdoor oriented couple, and MWC members, with land in Southern Marquette County decided to document the wildlife on their property.  Using stationary trail cameras they have photographed more than a dozen animal species, some of Michigan’s rarest, in less than four years. 

Please enjoy this amazing citizen science project, and ask yourself if you too could help us by photo-documenting Michigan’s wildlife where you live or recreate.
           (Left:  Wolf and Right:  Bear)

(Below:  Coyote) 


                                                                      (Below:  Bobcat)
                          (Above:  Porcupine)
                 (Below:  Raccoon)

 (Above:  White-tailed Deer)              
                      (Below:  Fisher)

(Below:  Gray Fox)

(Below:  Otters)


                   (Below:  Red Fox)

  (Left: Snowshoe Hare)


  1. nice article about wild life and very nice photographs....thanks for sharing

  2. Hi there! Great blog post. I like all your photos and the specifications of the animals. Thank you.

  3. Hi, great blog post. I like all your photos. So much interesting. Thank you for sharing.

    1. If you have any photos you would like to share please email them to me at Thank you so much for your comment!