In the latest step of a process that has stretched for decades, the eastern puma, which once roamed forests in Maine and across the eastern U.S. and Canada, was officially removed from federal Endangered Species Act protection on Monday and declared extinct.
The Department of the Interior final rule was proposed in 2015 and became final on Monday. The eastern puma landed on the federal list of endangered species in 1973, and the last confirmed sighting of the cat, which also is sometimes referred to as a mountain lion or a cougar, took place in Maine in 1938. That cat was trapped and stuffed by a taxidermist.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service summary, “based on the best available scientific and commercial information … no evidence of the existence of either an extant reproducing population or any individuals of the eastern puma subspecies; it also is highly unlikely that an eastern puma population could remain undetected since the last confirmed sighting in 1938.”
News stories from 2015 stated that “U.S. wildlife managers declare eastern cougar extinct,” but those declarations didn’t make the puma’s status official. Those comments and headlines were merely a step along the way, and reflected the proposed rule being forwarded by federal biologists at the time After more review and public comment periods, that proposed rule led to Monday’s issuance of true final declaration by the USFWS.
According to the rule that was posted on Monday, the only way to remove a species from the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife is if it is determined that the protections are no longer necessary due to recovery, original data error, or extinction.
The declaration of extinction does not mean that people who have reported seeing mountain lions in the east, including in Maine, were mistaken, according to the final rule.
“Genetic and forensic testing has confirmed that recent validated puma sightings in the East, outside Florida, were animals released or escaped from captivity, or wild pumas dispersing eastward from western North America,” according to the rule.
Mark McCullough, a USFWS wildlife biologist who focuses on endangered species and is based in Orono, was not available for comment on Monday due to the federal government shutdown.
Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.