Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion

Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion

Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion

Path of the Puma: The Remarkable Resilience of the Mountain Lion


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“These cats are like emissaries from the raw landscapes out West, probing the rest of the nation, showing us where patches of wildness remain, and bring a fuller dimension of wildness to them. It’s as if they’re testing to find out just what folks have in mind when they say they want to preserve natural settings. How natural? How toothy?” — From the Foreword

During a time when most wild animals are experiencing decline in the face of development and climate change, the intrepid mountain lion — also known as a puma, a cougar, and by many other names – has experienced reinvigoration as well as expansion of territory. What makes this cat, the fourth carnivore in the food chain — just ahead of humans – so resilient and resourceful? And what can conservationists and wild life managers learn from them about the web of biodiversity that is in desperate need of protection? Their story is fascinating for the lessons it can afford the protection of all species in times of dire challenge and decline.

With hands-on experience in both the Rocky Mountains and the wilds of Patagonia in South America, wildlife manager Jim Williams tracks the path of the puma, and in doing so, challenges readers to consider humans’ role in this journey as well as what commitment to nature and conservation means in this day and age.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781938340727
Publisher: Patagonia
Publication date: 10/09/2018
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 667,208
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Jim Williams has spent his entire life finding the wild. Jim left the farm country of Iowa and spent his formative years as a young surf bum turned biology student in the Pacific Beach area of San Diego. He did his undergraduate work at San Diego State and Florida State Universityies and his graduate studies at Montana State Universityin Bozeman. Jim is an award-winning, professionally certified wildlife biologist and has been working for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks for 25 years. Jim studied mountain lion ecology for his Master's Degree on Montana's Rocky Mountain Front and has been working on mountain lion and other wildlife conservation issues in various roles ever since. He has been working with biologists in Chile and Argentina on a variety of wildlife conservation projects. Jim and his wife Melora live and work in Montana’s beautiful Flathead Valley just west of Glacier National Park.

Joe Glickman was the author of Fearless: One Woman, One Kayak, One Continent (Falcon Guide, 2012), The Kayak Companion (Storey, 2003), and To the Top (Northword, 2003). Glickman's work has appeared in The New York Times, The Daily News, Newsday, The Village Voice, Outside, Men's Journal, Inside Sports, Adventure Cyclist, Runner's World, US, EcoTraveler, The Paddler, Sea Kayaker, Women's Sports & Fitness, and Brooklyn Bridge. He co-wrote (with Allen Barra) That's Not the Way It Was, a book about myths in sports.

A wildlife biologist who studied mountain goats and grizzlies in the Rockies, elephants in Africa, and whales in the world's oceans, Doug Chadwick also writes about natural history, conservation, and wildlife around the world, from right whales in the sub-Antarctic to snow leopards in the Himalayas, producing close to fifty articles for National Geographic magazine. In addition, he has written thirteen books about wildlife and conservation, including The Wolverine Way, Tracking Gobi Grizzlies, Yellowstone to Yukon and the lead chapter in Crown of the Continent: The Wildest Rockies, a photographic celebration of the region's wildlife and scenic majesty.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue THE CROSSING The big cat stole silent down rocky mountain slopes broken by bunchgrass, slipping unseen into the creek bottom. Behind him, the grunts of sparring bull bison retreated, giving way to the morning songs of red-winged blackbirds. The color of honey, the color of caramel, the color of dry mountain meadows, invisible in the dim light, the mountain lion crept into the first grey of day through grasses still wet with dew, his amber eyes set on the dark of distant forests, sure to hold deer. He was hungry. And he needed to move. There was food behind him, deer and elk and even a few bighorn sheep and antelope. But he was young still, and knew to avoid the big old male lions that patrolled those herds. And so he moved, off the Montana mountaintop, under the fence that rings the National Bison Range, down from the rocky den where he’d been born 18 months before. His mother had kept him moving all this time, teaching him the stalk, teaching him the kill, teaching him to avoid the territorial old males along the way. He was hardwired to roam, to eat, to find a wild empty country of his own where he could stake his territory. Deer lived in the wetland thickets and river bottoms below the mountaintop, so he followed ancient feline highways along the streambeds, moving with the deer at dawn and dusk. The cat headed east, upriver, toward mountains backlit by sunrise, doing what mountain lions have done here for 10,000 years. But times have changed. Between his old home on the National Bison Range and the deer-filled forests of the Mission Mountain Wilderness, a minefield of danger has grown up – houses and dogs and guns and poisons. And now that strange new noise, a hiss with a hint of roar, rising and falling periodically, somewhere between here and the snow-capped peaks. The National Bison Range is located just north of Missoula, Montana, a grassy 19,000 acres that rise in steep relief above a broad valley carved by Pleistocene ice. It is fenced to keep the bison in, but a thriving black bear population has dug holes beneath the wire and most large carnivores move freely on and off the range. Wolves, black bears, grizzly bears, coyotes and mountain lions all share the Bison Range, along with herds of prey. The Bison Range also is sacred ground. The bunch-grass and forest-filled mountain complex lies within the boundaries of the Flathead Indian Reservation, home to the Salish, Kootenai and Pend d’Oreilles people. In fact, it was a Tribal member who herded the Range’s original bison a century ago — from the prairies east of Glacier National Park, over the Continental Divide, and down into the Mission Valley. The valley is framed by protected lands — to the west by the low-slung National Bison Range, and to the east by the soaring summits of the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness. Between lie the unprotected wetlands and river bottoms and glacial pothole lakes so popular with deer and mountain lions and, more recently, human habitats. As he worked farther out onto the valley floor, the young lion slowed to a crawl. To his left, a large field stretched northward toward a barn and a few feeding deer. He was hungry. But the strange sound still spooked him, and he kept moving. A lone male can go as long as two weeks between kills, if necessary, and this was not the time to take risks, here in unknown country. Mountain lions have remarkable eyes, capable of seeing clearly through the dark of dusk and dawn hunting hours, but his ears were sharp, too, and he could hear the redhead ducks, mallards and Canada geese calling from pothole lakes as the early-spring sun rose. The territorial sign of other big cats – the scent of urine and spray, the scrapes and scratch trees – kept him traveling quietly along waters’ edge. A big male might lay claim to 150 square miles, so this was no place to stop. And anyway, that new noise he’d heard earlier had now grown quite loud and more frequent, rising and falling steadily, a low drone of moving sound. Somewhere on the other side of that noise a graduate student slipped on wet grass as she scrambled down a sloped highway bank. Whisper Camel-Means – a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Indian Reservation – was here to study the effectiveness of wildlife passages tunneled beneath the rush of US Highway 93. The road runs ribbon-straight through the heart of the valley, a dividing line that cuts across rich habitat and separates the Bison Range from the Wilderness. Her mind was on a camera trap she had set a week before, in a state-of-the-art wildlife underpass built beneath the busy north-south roadway. For years, Tribal elders and biologists had negotiated with state and federal highway officials, designing a “wildlife friendly” reconstruction of Hwy 93. They called it The Peoples’ Way, and they gave it a motto: “the road is a visitor.” It would be made to serve the real residents – the people and the elk and the bears and the big cats. Completed in 2010, it features 41 fish and wildlife crossing structures in 56 miles of highway – overpasses and underpasses, culverts and bridges, all linking streams and ancient migration paths across the valley floor, connecting habitats from mountaintop to river bottom. Whisper’s camera traps were set to capture and record wildlife crossings beneath the pulse of log trucks and minivans. This was the sound, the rising and falling hiss of tire on tarmac, the lion had been hearing. He was near the forested eastern mountains now, could see the dark timber rising, but these flashes of light and steel raced steadily across what appeared to be a paved ridgeline. He could not see the terrain on the other side, and that made him cautious. Padding closer, he sniffed a web of metal fence, then followed the fenceline parallel with the highway toward a darkened tunnel. Low light and caves. He liked that. That’s how he hunts. A thick layer of earth muffled the roar of traffic above, and he never heard the whirr of Whisper’s remote camera. The big cat slipped through, invisible except to the camera, and on the other side he could finally smell the sharp tang of Douglas fir and moist forest soil. He had passed unseen across one of Montana’s busiest and most dangerous highways, a silent ghost hardwired to find the wild. Now he was on his own, staking and marking his hunting grounds, striding quickly toward a new high-country home among the deer herds of the Mission Mountains. But he was still close enough that he could hear the sound of the trucks behind him as Whisper slipped down the highway slope. She never worried about encountering mountain lions during the day – after all, she’d always understood that the big cats preferred darkness. But Whisper knew to take care in bear country, so she made noise as she moved through tall vegetation and dense forest. Bears typically move on if they hear you approaching, but her mind was on that camera, not on predators. At the tunnel, she edged along the wall to reach her camera. It was late morning now, and the sun was warming. Whisper toggled through the digital images and immediately noticed a time-stamped frame that had been snapped just a moment before she arrived. A chill up the spine. A quick catch of the breath. Hair suddenly on end. A big mountain lion. Skwtismyè in her native language. In broad daylight. Just now. Adrenaline. And then… a smile. This was exactly how it was supposed to work. The big cat had moved safely beneath the highway, through a crossing structure that she and the biologists and the engineers had designed and built. It worked beautifully. Other images, at other passages along The Peoples’ Way, have captured bears and bobcats, deer and elk, skunks and owls and even otters. Wild nature needs room to roam – to disperse and connect and migrate with the seasons – and the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes have set the global standard for wildlife connectivity across roadways. Most all of the big carnivores that traditionally defined our nation have been squeezed into the protected fringes, the national parks and wilderness areas that provide a last refuge. But not the mountain lions. They live with us, from California to the Eastern seaboard, even if we seldom see them. Or, perhaps, because we seldom see them. These big cats are evolved for stealth, to hide from top predators such as wolves and bears, and that secrecy has allowed them to live among us. I have had the privilege to spend a career tracking and conserving mountain lions and their habitats from the National Bison Range to the Mission Mountain Wilderness, and from Montana’s Crown of the Continent ecosystem to the Patagonian wilds of Argentina and Chile. Down there, we call them pumas, but they are the same cats, hungry for prey and for the freedom to roam. From Montana to Patagonia, the story of Puma concolor is a story of magical landscapes, remarkable habitats and the fantastic people who work to protect them. It is also an unlikely story, because it is a very lonely exception to the rule. Big, wild cats worldwide are in trouble, threatened and endangered and on the ropes. Fewer than 20,000 lions persist in all of Africa. As few as 15,000 jaguars remain in the wild. And the global census of tigers has dipped below 4,000. And yet. The mountain lions of North America and the pumas of South America are thriving, dispersing and expanding and re-wilding entire continents. They are beating the odds, even here at the height of the human dominated “Anthropocene Era,” and their success provides a remarkable opportunity for wild nature to regain a toehold and to shape possibilities for the persistence of natural systems. They are hope for those of us who believe our future will depend, in large part, on finding the wild.

Table of Contents

Foreword by Doug Chadwick Prologue Chapter 1 The Chase Chapter 2 Finding the Wild Chapter 3 The Front Chapter 4 In the Beginning There Was Brazil Chapter 5 Cows Not Condos Chapter 6 The Crown of the Continent Chapter 7 Oh Caribou Chapter 8 Citizen Science Chapter 9 There's a Lion in My Backyard Chapter 10 Down South, Way Down South Chapter 11 Welcome to the End of the World Chapter 12 Altered Landscape of Dreams Chapter 13 Ranching for Wildlife Chapter 14 Pumas Below Aconcagua Chapter 15 Pumas and Penguins at the End of the World Chapter 16 Kodkods and Other Cool Cats Chapter 17 Rewilding Patagonia Chapter 18 Road to the Park at the Bottom of the World Chapter 19 Arcilio the Puma Tracker Chapter 20 A Trophic Cascade of Colorful Creatures Chapter 21 Montanagonia Epilogue

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"Wild America - rugged, remote, rich with wildlife. But also highly urbanized, criss-crossed with roads, fences, and towns. Jim Williams brilliantly showcases this contrast of tame and untamed - and the possibility still contained within it - through the eyes of the puma on its journey across the Americas." Julie Kunen, Vice President of the Americas Program, Wildlife Conservation Society

“This book is a prime example of Jim Williams’ dedicated effort to inform and enlighten a broad audience of the ecological and cultural importance of this charismatic apex carnivore.” — Maurice Hornocker, Founder/Director, Selway Institute, Inc.

My own experience tells me that Rewilding requires that we rewild our own hearts and minds first, to focus on what and who’s gone missing. This book is the story of many who spend their lives seeking answers to these questions and making the complicated, exacting and long-term commitment that honors what they discover. — Kristine M. Tompkins, Founder and President, The Tompkins Foundation

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