[Federal Register Volume 80, Number 116 (Wednesday, June 17, 2015)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 34595-34605]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2015-14931]



Fish and Wildlife Service

50 CFR Part 17

[Docket No. FWS-R5-ES-2015-0001; 50120-1113-000]
RIN 1018-AY05

Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants; Removing Eastern 
Puma (=Cougar) From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened 

AGENCY: Fish and Wildlife Service, Interior.

ACTION: Proposed rule.


SUMMARY: The best available scientific and commercial data indicate 
that the eastern puma (=cougar) (Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar) is 
extinct. Therefore, under the authority of the Endangered Species Act 
of 1973, as amended, we, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service), 
propose to remove this subspecies from the Federal List of Endangered 
and Threatened Wildlife. This proposed action is based on a thorough 
review of all available information, which indicates that there is no 
evidence of the existence of either an extant population or individuals 
of the eastern puma and that, for various reasons, it is highly 
unlikely that an eastern puma population could remain undetected over 
the time span since the last confirmed sighting was documented in 1938.

DATES: We will accept comments received or postmarked on or before 
August 17, 2015. Comments submitted electronically using the Federal 
eRulemaking Portal (see ADDRESSES below) must be received by 11:59 p.m. 
Eastern Time on the closing date. We must receive requests for public 
hearings, in writing, at the address shown in FOR FURTHER INFORMATION 
CONTACT by August 3, 2015. Informational webinars will be scheduled 
upon request.

ADDRESSES: Written comments: You may submit comments by one of the 
following methods:
    Electronically: Go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal: http://www.regulations.gov. In the search box, type FWS-R5-ES-2015-001 which 
is the docket number for this proposed rule. Then, click on the search 
button. In the Search panel on the left side of the screen, under the 
Document Type heading, click on the box next to ``Proposed Rule'' to 
locate this document. When you have located the correct document, you 
may submit a comment by clicking on ``Comment Now!''
    By hard copy: Submit by U.S. mail or hand-delivery to: Public 
Comments Processing, Attn: FWS-R5-ES-2015-0001, U.S. Fish & Wildlife 
Service, MS: BPHC, 5275 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041-3803.
    We will post all comments at: http://www.regulations.gov. This 
generally means that we will post any personal information you provide 
us (see Information Requested below, for more information).
    Copies of documents: This proposed rule and and primary supporting 
documents are available at: http://www.regulations.gov. In addition, 
the supporting files for this proposed rule will be available for 
public inspection, by appointment and during normal business hours, at 
the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Maine Field Office, 17 Godfrey 
Drive, Suite #2, Orono, ME 04473, and on the Eastern Cougar Web site 
at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Questions and requests for additional 
information may be directed to Martin Miller, Northeast Regional 
Office, telephone 413-253-8615, or to Mark McCollough, Maine Field 
Office, telephone 207-866-3344, extension 115. Individuals who are 
hearing- or speech-impaired may call the Federal Relay Service at 1-
800-877-8337 for TTY assistance. General information regarding the 
eastern puma and the delisting process may also be accessed at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar.


Information Requested

    We intend that any final action resulting from this proposed rule 
will be based on the best scientific and commercial data available and 
be as accurate and effective as possible. Therefore, we invite tribal 
and governmental agencies, the scientific community, and other 
interested parties to submit comments and new data regarding this 
proposed rule. In particular, we are seeking targeted information and 
comments concerning the following:
    (1) The persistence or extinction of a breeding population of the 
eastern puma subspecies within its historical range;
    (2) Verifiable reports or evidence of wild-origin pumas within the 
historical range of the eastern puma subspecies;
    (3) Our analysis of the status of the eastern puma; and
    (4) The taxonomy of North American pumas.
    Please include sufficient information with your submission (such as 
scientific journal articles or other publications) to allow us to 
verify any scientific or commercial information you include. Bear in 
mind that comments simply advocating or opposing the proposed action 
without providing supporting information will be noted but not 
considered in making a determination, as section 4(b)(1)(A) of the 
Endangered Species Act of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.) 
(Act), directs that determinations as to whether any species is an 
endangered species or threatened species shall be made ``solely on the 
basis of the best scientific and commercial data available.''
    You may submit your comments and materials concerning the proposed 
rule by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. We request that you 
send comments only to an address listed in ADDRESSES. All comments must 
be submitted to http://www.regulations.gov, hand delivered, or 
postmarked by the deadline specified in DATES. If you submit 
information via http://www.regulations.gov, your entire submission--
including any personal identifying information--will be posted on the 
Web site. If your submission is made via a hardcopy that includes 
personal identifying information, you may request at the top of your 

[[Page 34596]]

that we withhold this information from public review; however, we 
cannot guarantee that we will be able to do so. We will post all 
hardcopy submissions on http://www.regulations.gov.
    Comments and materials we receive, as well as supporting 
documentation used in preparing this proposed rule, will be available 
for public inspection on http://www.regulations.gov, or by appointment 
during normal business hours at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 
    In making a final decision on this proposal, we will take into 
consideration the comments and any additional information we receive 
during the public comment period. Such communications could lead to a 
final rule that differs from this proposal.

Public Hearing

    Section 4(b)(5)(E) of the Act provides for one or more public 
hearings on this proposal, if requested. We must receive requests for 
public hearings, in writing, at the address shown in the FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT section within 45 days after the date of this 
Federal Register publication (see DATES). We will schedule public 
hearings on this proposal, if any are requested, and announce the 
dates, times, and places of those hearings, as well as how to obtain 
reasonable accommodations, in the Federal Register at least 15 days 
before the first hearing.

Peer Review

    In accordance with our policy, ``Notice of Interagency Cooperative 
Policy for Peer Review in Endangered Species Act Activities,'' which 
was published on July 1, 1994 (59 FR 34270), we will seek the expert 
opinion of at least three appropriate independent specialists regarding 
scientific data and analyses contained in this proposed rule. We will 
send copies of this proposed rule to peer reviewers immediately 
following its publication in the Federal Register. The purpose of such 
review is to ensure that our decisions are based on scientifically 
sound data, assumptions, and analysis.


    This proposed rule is based on detailed information and indepth 
analyses contained in the Service's 5-year review for the eastern puma 
(USFWS 2011, entire), which can be accessed at: http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar. That review includes a thorough discussion of the 
eastern puma's biology, historical records, and analysis of 
contemporary sightings. We also take into account information that has 
become available since 2011, noting that this information corroborates 
the 5-year review's analysis. All references cited in the 2011 review 
and this proposed rule are maintained on file at the Service's Maine 
Field Office (see ADDRESSES).

Previous Federal Actions

    Under the Act, we maintain a List of Endangered and Threatened 
Wildlife (List) at 50 CFR 17.11 and a List of Endangered and Threatened 
Plants at 50 CFR 17.12. On June 4, 1973 (38 FR 14678), we listed the 
eastern puma (=cougar), Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar, as an 
endangered subspecies (using the common name of eastern cougar). At 
that time, critical habitat was not provided for under the Act; 
consequently, critical habitat was not designated for the eastern 
cougar. The principal factors leading to the listing of the eastern 
puma were widespread persecution (poisoning, trapping, hunting, and 
bounties), decline of forested habitat, and near-extirpation of white-
tailed deer populations during the 1800s, which together resulted in 
the extirpation of most eastern puma populations by 1900.
    A Service status review of the puma in North America, including the 
eastern puma, was issued in 1976 (Nowak 1976). This review, along with 
status reviews by some States and Canadian provinces (e.g., van Zyll de 
Jong and van Ingen 1978, R.L. Downing newsletters from 1979 to 1982), 
suggested that a large number of unverified public reports may be 
evidence of a persisting, native breeding population of eastern pumas. 
Such reports led the Service to retain the eastern puma on the List 
until such time as either a breeding population or extinction could be 
    The Eastern Cougar Recovery Plan was approved in 1982 (USFWS 1982). 
During plan preparation, R.L. Downing conducted field surveys and 
investigated sighting reports and concluded that ``no breeding cougar 
populations have been substantiated within the former range of F.c. 
couguar since the 1920s.'' Nonetheless, the recovery plan states that 
the eastern cougar could be reclassified from endangered to threatened 
when one population containing at least 50 breeding adults was found or 
established. It further states that the eastern cougar could be removed 
from the List when at least three populations were found or 
established, with each containing more than 50 breeding adults. Since 
the plan's approval, no breeding populations have been found, nor have 
any individual pumas known to be F.c. couguar (such individuals would 
form the basis of a founder population). Thus, neither of the recovery 
criteria was ever met.
    Section 4(c)(2) of the Act requires that we conduct a review of 
listed species at least once every 5 years to determine: (1) Whether a 
species no longer meets the definition of an endangered species or 
threatened species and should be removed from the List (i.e., 
delisted), (2) whether a species listed as endangered more properly 
meets the definition of threatened and should be reclassified to 
threatened (i.e., downlisted), or (3) whether a species listed as 
threatened more properly meets the definition of endangered and should 
be reclassified to endangered. In accordance with 50 CFR 424.11(d), we 
will consider a species for delisting only if the best scientific and 
commercial data substantiate that the species is neither endangered nor 
threatened for one or more of the following reasons: (1) The species is 
considered extinct, (2) the species is considered recovered, or (3) the 
data available when the species was listed, or the interpretation of 
such data, were in error.
    Between 1979 and 1991, the eastern puma was included in three 
cursory 5-year reviews conducted by the Service: A 1979 review of all 
domestic and foreign species listed prior to 1975 (44 FR 29566, May 21, 
1979), a 1985 review of all species listed before 1976 and from 1979 to 
1980 (50 FR 29901, July 22, 1985), and a 1991 review of all species 
listed before 1991 (56 FR 56882, November 6, 1991). None of these 
reviews recommended a change from the eastern puma's listing 
classification as endangered.
    On January 29, 2007, we published a Federal Register notice 
announcing a 5-year review specific to the eastern puma and nine other 
species, and we requested information from the public concerning the 
eastern puma (72 FR 4018). The assessment of the eastern puma's current 
status, completed on January 28, 2011 (USFWS 2011), found no evidence 
of the existence of either an extant population or individual eastern 
pumas, and concluded, therefore, the subspecies should be considered 
extinct. The assessment thus concluded that the eastern puma does not 
meet the definition of either an endangered species or a threatened 
species under section 3 of the Act.

Assessment of Species Status

    Section 4 of the Act and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 
424) set forth the procedures for listing species, reclassifying 
species, and removing species from listed status.

[[Page 34597]]

``Species'' is defined by the Act as including any species or 
subspecies of fish or wildlife or plants, and any distinct population 
segment of any species of vertebrate fish or wildlife which interbreeds 
when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). To determine whether a species should 
be listed as endangered or threatened, we assess the likelihood of its 
continued existence based on the five factors described in section 
4(a)(1) of the Act (see Consideration of Factors Under Section 4(a)(1) 
of the Act). A species may be reclassified or removed from the List on 
the same basis. With regard to delisting a species due to extinction, 
``a sufficient period of time must be allowed before delisting to 
indicate clearly that the species is extinct'' (50 CFR 424.11(d)(1)).
    According to these standards, we must determine whether the eastern 
puma is a valid subspecies and whether the subspecies is still extant 
in order to determine its appropriate listing status. The following 
sections thus examine the biological and legal information considered 
to be most germane to the status of the eastern puma as a valid, extant 
subspecies before looking at factors that may affect the its continued 


    The eastern puma (Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar) is treated as a 
subspecies of the puma. The species is also known by many other common 
names, including, among others, cougar, catamount, mountain lion, 
panther, painter, and wildcat. As explained in the 5-year review (USFWS 
2011, pp. 4-5), the puma is the most widely distributed land mammal in 
the New World and is one of the most adaptable mammals in the northern 
hemisphere. At the time of European contact, the puma occurred 
throughout most of South, Central, and North America. In North America, 
breeding populations still occupy about one-third of their historical 
range but are now absent from central and eastern North America outside 
Florida. The puma is documented historically from eastern North America 
to about 45 degrees north latitude (roughly equating to the colonial-
era range of its primary ungulate prey, white-tailed deer) in a variety 
of habitats from swamps and everglades in the Southeast to temperate 
forests in the Northeast. Aside from presence reports, few historical 
records exist regarding the natural history of the eastern puma.

Current Legal Status

    The eastern puma is one of three subspecies of puma that are 
federally listed as endangered species under the Act; the others are 
the Florida panther (Puma (=Felis) concolor coryi), listed in 1967 (32 
FR 4001, March 11, 1967), and the Costa Rican puma (Puma (=Felis) 
concolor costaricensis), listed in 1976 (41 FR 24062, June 14, 1976). 
Both the Florida panther and Costa Rican puma remain extant, albeit 
extremely rare.
    In Canada, the first status review of the eastern puma by the 
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) in 
1978 assigned endangered status to the taxon Puma concolor couguar 
based on puma reports in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritimes provinces. 
In 1998, the Canadian eastern puma listing was changed from the 
Endangered to the Data Deficient or Indeterminate category for Ontario, 
Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia.
    The eastern cougar (=puma) is listed as endangered in the 
International Union for Conservation of Nature's (IUCN) Mammal Red Data 
Book (IUCN 1982). The subspecies is also classified as an Appendix I 
animal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered 
Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which provides protection from 
international trade.
    Legal protections at the State and provincial levels are discussed 
under ``Historical Range, Abundance, and Distribution'' below.

Biological Status

    Taxonomy and Genetics: The eastern puma 5-year review (USFWS 2011, 
pp. 29-35) provides a full discussion of the taxonomic history of this 
subspecies. As indicated in that review, the current practice is to 
refer to the species as Puma concolor (Linnaeus 1771) and the eastern 
subspecies as Puma concolor couguar.
    There is ongoing debate about the taxonomic assignment of puma 
subspecies, including the question as to whether North American pumas 
comprise a single subspecies or multiple subspecies. In particular, 
there has been disagreement about whether the scientific community 
should accept the use of genetics as the driving factor in puma 
taxonomy, as was done by Culver et al. (2000, entire). The Service's 
position is that until a comprehensive evaluation of the subspecies 
status of North American pumas, including genetic, morphometric, and 
behavioral analyses, is completed, the best available information 
continues to support the assignment of the eastern taxon to Puma 
concolor couguar as distinct from other North American subspecies.
    In recognizing the eastern puma as a valid subspecies, and thus a 
valid listed entity, we next evaluate whether the subspecies should be 
determined extinct. It is important to note that assessing the 
biological status of the eastern puma as a subspecies does not preclude 
eventual taxonomic revision.
    Biology and Life History: There is little basis for believing that 
the ecology of eastern pumas was significantly different from puma 
ecology elsewhere on the continent. Our biological understanding of the 
eastern puma, therefore, is derived from studies conducted in various 
regions of North America and, to the extent possible, from eastern puma 
historical records and museum specimens. This information is detailed 
in the status review (USFWS 2011) on pages 6 through 8.
    Historical Range, Abundance, and Distribution: Details and 
citations for the following summary are provided in the status review 
(USFWS 2011, pp. 8-29 and 36-56). Although a lack of reliable sightings 
and historical records makes it difficult to estimate past abundance 
and distribution, the available information is discussed below.
    In eastern North America at the time of European contact, the puma 
ranged from Florida to southern Quebec and remained abundant through 
much of eastern North America during the colonial era. Despite its 
apparent early abundance, however, only 26 historical specimens of 
eastern pumas, from seven eastern States and one Canadian province 
within the subspecies' historical range, reside in museums or other 
    Based on this admittedly small number of specimens and other scant 
evidence, Young and Goldman (1946) described the historical range of 
Felis concolor couguar as southeastern Ontario, southern Quebec, and 
New Brunswick in Canada, and a region bounded from Maine to Michigan, 
Illinois, Kentucky, and South Carolina in the eastern United States. 
The Service's recovery plan for the eastern cougar describes a similar 
range (USFWS 1982, pp. 1-2), although the range is mapped a little 
farther north into Ontario. The recovery plan also maps Felis concolor 
schorgerii, named as a subspecies after Young and Goldman (1946) was 
published, to the west and F.c. coryi to the south of the eastern 
puma's range.
    The most recently published assessment of the puma in eastern 
Canada, conducted by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife 
in Canada (COSEWIC) (Scott 1998), maps

[[Page 34598]]

the puma's range throughout southern Ontario and Manitoba. The eastern 
subspecies is not stipulated in Scott's (1998) range description; 
indeed, the review questioned whether the eastern puma was ever a valid 
subspecies. Other authors have also discussed the past distribution of 
pumas in Canada without acknowledging them as the eastern subspecies. 
Rosette (2011) asserts that native, free-roaming pumas of unknown 
origin may continue to survive in Ontario while conceding that no 
evidence of their presence has been documented for almost 100 years. In 
Manitoba, on the other hand, several authors have documented a 
relatively consistent record of pumas, but there is no evidence that 
these are eastern pumas or that the subspecies ever occurred that far 
    The historical literature indicates that puma populations were 
thought to have been largely extirpated in eastern North America 
(except for Florida and perhaps the Smoky Mountains) by the 1870s, and 
in the Midwest by 1900. According to many historical accounts, pumas 
were greatly feared and were also persecuted as competitors for game 
and occasional predators of livestock. Eastern puma populations also 
decreased as habitat conditions for the puma's primary prey base, 
white-tailed deer, changed dramatically during this time. By the mid- 
to late-1800s, human settlement patterns resulted in the extirpation of 
deer from much of eastern North America. The last records of pumas in 
most of the eastern States and provinces, from approximately 1790 to 
1890, coincided with loss of deer populations and habitat.
    By 1929, eastern pumas were believed to be ``virtually extinct,'' 
and Young and Goldman (1946) concurred that ``they became extinct many 
years ago.'' On the other hand, puma records from New Brunswick in 1932 
and Maine in 1938 suggest that a population may have persisted in 
northernmost New England and eastern Canada.
    In the Service's 1976 status review (Nowak 1976), R.M. Nowak stated 
his belief that the large number of unverified sightings of pumas 
constituted evidence that certain other populations had also survived 
or had become reestablished in the central and eastern parts of the 
continent and may have increased in number since the 1940s. Further, as 
stated in the Eastern Cougar Recovery Plan (USFWS 1982, pp. 4, 7), R.L. 
Downing believed it possible that a small population may have persisted 
in the southern Appalachians into the 1920s. Nonetheless, the field 
surveys he conducted and the reports he investigated prior to writing 
the recovery plan led him to conclude that ``no breeding cougar 
populations have been substantiated within the former range of F. c. 
couguar since the 1920s'' (USFWS 1982, p. 6). Scott's (1998) COSEWIC 
review also concluded that ``there is no objective evidence (actual 
cougar specimens or other unequivocal confirmation) for the continuous 
presence of cougars since the last century anywhere in eastern Canada 
or the eastern United States outside of Florida,'' and that ``there is 
circumstantial evidence for virtual or complete extirpation'' from 
central Ontario eastward.
    The known status of the eastern puma within its historical range is 
summarized in table 1, below. A more detailed discussion of the 
historical status, current confirmed and unconfirmed puma sightings, 
potential habitat, and legal protection (also see Current Legal Status 
above) of the eastern puma in the states and provinces is provided in 
the 5-year status review (USFWS 2011, pp. 8-26). To summarize, eastern 
pumas historically were considered generally common and widespread; 
however, by the late 1800s, eastern pumas were believed to be 
extirpated from most of their range. As indicated in table 1, the 
majority of the most recent confirmed reports date from the mid-1800s 
to around 1930. Later reports are thought to be indicative of 
dispersers of western pumas, as in Missouri, or released animals, as in 
Newfoundland. Although there now appears to be adequate habitat and 
prey for pumas in various portions of the subspecies' historical range, 
the many decades of habitat loss and near-extirpation of the puma's 
primary prey, white-tailed deer, bring into question the continued 
survival and reproduction of eastern pumas over that time.

                                                   Table 1--Eastern Puma Status by State and Province
                                                         Most recent confirmed                           Current status in
        State or province           Historical status     or verifiable report    Potential habitat             wild               Legal protection
Connecticut.....................  Historically common..  1842.................  56 square miles        Considered extirpated  State species of special
                                                                                 (mi\2\) (145 square                           concern, with no open
                                                                                 kilometers (km\2\));                          season and possession
                                                                                 limited.                                      prohibited.
Delaware........................  Disappeared in late    .....................  Not described........  Considered extirpated  Possession of carnivores
                                   1700s.                                                                                      permitted under stringent
Illinois........................  Uncertain taxonomy;    .....................  Southern Illinois....  Considered             No State endangered
                                   disappeared before                                                   extirpated; possible   species status, but some
                                   1870.                                                                dispersal of western   level of protection from
                                                                                                        pumas into the         hunting; permit required
                                                                                                        State; no breeding     for possession of
                                                                                                        population.            dangerous animals.
Indiana.........................  Historical records     1851.................  Not described........  Considered extirpated  No legal protection;
                                   are rare.                                                                                   private possession
Kentucky........................  Widely distributed     .....................  Statewide; ample prey  Considered extirpated  State listed as
                                   historically;                                 base.                                         extirpated; private
                                   disappeared before                                                                          possession of dangerous
                                   1900.                                                                                       wildlife banned.
Maine...........................  Historically rare....  1938.................  ~17,064 mi\2\ (44,196  Considered extirpated  State listed as
                                                                                 km\2\).                                       extirpated; perpetual
                                                                                                                               closed season; permit
                                                                                                                               required for possession
                                                                                                                               of captive animals.

[[Page 34599]]

Maryland........................  Occurred Statewide...  Late 1800s?            Western Maryland.....  Considered extirpated  State listed as endangered-
                                                                                                                               extirpated; protected
                                                                                                                               from take; permit
                                                                                                                               required for possession
                                                                                                                               of captive animals, but
                                                                                                                               no permits have been
Massachusetts...................  Occurred Statewide...  1858.................  No large habitat       Considered extirpated  Included on State list due
                                                                                 blocks.                                       to Federal designation;
                                                                                                                               protected with closed
                                                                                                                               season and other
Michigan........................  Occurred in much of    1906.................  Upper and Lower        Current reports        State listed as endangered
                                   State.                                        Peninsulas; ample      considered to be       species; pumas cannot be
                                                                                 prey base.             dispersers of          privately held as pets.
                                                                                                        western pumas into
                                                                                                        the state; no
                                                                                                        breeding population.
Missouri........................  Historically common;   1966; taxonomy         Southeastern           Current confirmed      Classified as extirpated
                                   taxonomy uncertain.    uncertain.             Missouri; ample prey   sightings considered   but protected under
                                                                                 base.                  to be dispersers of    Wildlife Code provisions.
                                                                                                        western pumas into
                                                                                                        the State; no
                                                                                                        breeding population.
New Hampshire...................  Historically rare....  Late 1800s...........  Northern New           Considered extirpated  State-protected species;
                                                                                 Hampshire; limited.                           possession of wild
                                                                                                                               felines illegal except
                                                                                                                               for educational purposes.
New Jersey......................  Historically common    1830 to 1840.........  No large habitat       Considered extirpated  Not on the State
                                   Statewide.                                    blocks.                                       endangered species list;
                                                                                                                               possession of dangerous
                                                                                                                               species permitted for
                                                                                                                               scientific holding,
                                                                                                                               animal exhibitor,
                                                                                                                               zoological holding, or
                                                                                                                               animal dealer.
New York........................  Occurred Statewide...  1894.................  Adirondack area; low   Considered extirpated  Protected by State
                                                                                 prey density.                                 Endangered Species Act;
                                                                                                                               State issues permits for
                                                                                                                               possession, sale, and
                                                                                                                               breeding of big cats.
North Carolina..................  Historically common..  1920.................  Western and            No physical evidence   State protected as an
                                                                                 southeastern coastal   to confirm sightings.  endangered species; no
                                                                                 North Carolina;                               open season; permit
                                                                                 ample prey base.                              required for captive
Ohio............................  Historically           .....................  No large habitat       Considered extirpated  Not on the State
                                   uncommon;                                     blocks.                                       endangered species list;
                                   disappeared by 1850.                                                                        no State protective
Pennsylvania....................  Common Statewide.....  1914.................  Northern Allegheny     Considered extirpated  State listed as
                                                                                 Plateau and north-                            extirpated; no open
                                                                                 central                                       season; exotic wildlife
                                                                                 Pennsylvania; ample                           permit required for
                                                                                 prey base.                                    possession.
Rhode Island....................  Early records are      1848.................  No large habitat       Considered extirpated  Classified as extirpated;
                                   scant.                                        blocks.                                       permit required for
                                                                                                                               possession of native
                                                                                                                               wildlife or their
South Carolina..................  Present until 1850...  .....................  Northwest portion of   No confirmed evidence  State listed as endangered
                                                                                 State; ample prey      of occurrences or a    with protection from
                                                                                 base.                  population.            take; possession
Tennessee.......................  Historically present   1930.................  Areas in central and   Considered extirpated  Permit required for
                                   Statewide; common in                          eastern Tennessee.                            possession of dangerous
                                   western portion of                                                                          animals.
Vermont.........................  Historically reported  1881.................  Large forested         Considered to be no    State listed as
                                   as both rare and                              blocks; adequate       longer present.        endangered; protected
                                   common.                                       prey density.                                 under State Endangered
                                                                                                                               Species Act; permit
                                                                                                                               required for possession
                                                                                                                               of big cats.
Virginia........................  Historically           1882.................  Western mountains;     No confirmed records   State listed as
                                   plentiful in coastal                          ample prey base.       since the 1880s.       endangered; protected
                                   lowlands and western                                                                        under State Endangered
                                   mountains.                                                                                  Species Act; import
                                                                                                                               permit required for wild
Washington, DC..................  Native to area.......  1913.................  None available.......  Considered extirpated  Private possession of
                                                                                                                               pumas prohibited.

[[Page 34600]]

West Virginia...................  Historically common..  1901.................  Extensive and          Considered extirpated  State listed; protected
                                                                                 widespread; ample                             under the State ESA;
                                                                                 prey base.                                    permit required to
                                                                                                                               import, hold, or sell
                                                                                                                               native or exotic felines.
Wisconsin.......................  Historically common;   1909.................  Assumed to have        Confirmed records      Not currently protected.
                                   uncertain taxonomy.                           adequate habitat and   since 1994, possibly
                                                                                 prey base.             of another
                                                                                                        subspecies and
                                                                                                        illegally released
                                                                                                        pumas; no known
                                                                                                        breeding population.
Manitoba........................  Pumas historically     .....................  Abundant habitat and   Not considered         Pumas not included on
                                   occurred throughout                           prey, but snow depth   extirpated;            Provincial endangered
                                   province; not                                 may be limiting.       insufficient           species list, but
                                   considered to be the                                                 evidence to            considered a Species of
                                   eastern subspecies.                                                  determine current      Special Concern.
New Brunswick...................  Historical records     1932.................  Northern New           Small number may be    Listed as endangered under
                                   unreliable.                                   Brunswick; low prey    present, of unknown    the Provincial Endangered
                                                                                 densities.             origin and taxonomy;   Species Act.
                                                                                                        lack of evidence of
                                                                                                        a viable population.
Newfoundland....................  Not native to          .....................  Not described........  Sightings believed to  Not currently protected.
                                   province, illegally                                                  be of released
                                   introduced in 1960.                                                  animals or their
Nova Scotia.....................  No verified reports;   .....................  Not described........  No verified records..  Not listed on the
                                   may have extended                                                                           Provincial list of
                                   into area coincident                                                                        endangered species, but
                                   to deer expansion in                                                                        protected by Provincial
                                   early 1900s.                                                                                regulations.
Ontario.........................  Historically reported  1908.................  Large forested         Considered extirpated  Not protected under
                                   as both rare and                              blocks; ample prey                            Provincial Endangered
                                   common.                                       base.                                         Species Act.
Prince Edward Island............  No known historical    .....................  Not described........  No known occurrences.  Not currently protected.
Quebec..........................  Occurred province-     1920.................  Habitat and prey       Considered extirpated  Not currently protected.
                                   wide; common south                            available.             despite recent
                                   of St. Lawrence                                                      reports.

    Current Biological Status of Pumas in Eastern North America: Our 
conclusions regarding the current biological status of the eastern puma 
rely upon three lines of evidence: (1) The detectability of wild pumas, 
(2) contemporary accounts of puma sightings in eastern North America as 
evidence of the continued existence of eastern pumas, and (3) the time 
since the last verified eastern puma occurrence. Recognizing that 
extinction cannot be demonstrated with absolute certainty (i.e., it is 
a probabilistic determination), the totality of evidence for the 
eastern puma provides a basis for drawing robust conclusions about the 
true status of this subspecies, as discussed below. A more detailed 
discussion and references are provided in the 5-year status review 
(USFWS 2011, pp. 36-56).
    Detectability of pumas: This line of evidence addresses the 
question of how likely it is that eastern puma individuals or 
populations could continue to persist without being detected. If 
entities are difficult to detect, lack of confirmed sightings may not 
be indicative of absence; however, if detectability is known to be 
high, it is much more likely that lack of sightings is evidence of 
absence. For the eastern puma, detectability differs between 
individuals and populations. Although individual pumas are difficult to 
detect, determining the presence of a puma population is possible with 
a reasonable amount of effort.
    Detection of single, transient pumas is particularly problematic 
because they cover such a large range and leave behind little sign of 
their occupation (e.g., scrapes, kills, and tracks) in any one place. 
The best prospect for detecting these animals is through tracks left 
during their extensive daily movement in the snowy regions of North 
    Numerous searches and surveys have been undertaken to detect the 
presence of individual pumas, either directly or as part of large 
carnivore studies, and, by extension, puma populations in eastern North 
America. Searches have been conducted in areas reputed to harbor pumas, 
and reports of puma sightings have been investigated

[[Page 34601]]

extensively. Surveys have utilized a variety of techniques, including 
trail transects with motion-sensing cameras, hair trap posts and 
rubbing pads, and snow-covered road surveys to detect the tracks or 
signs of pumas.
    Such studies have yielded few positive results in eastern North 
America. However, in other parts of North America, pumas have been 
readily detected through searches and surveys. Additionally, pumas have 
been detected as a result of road kills; even in areas with small 
extant populations (such as Florida and South Dakota) and low road 
densities, pumas killed on roads are reported nearly every month of the 
year. In contrast, although road mortalities have been documented in 
the eastern United States and Canada in recent years, the reports are 
irregular, and in the rare instances where individuals have been 
verified as wild pumas, they have originated outside the eastern puma's 
historical range.
    Overall, pumas have been readily detectable in areas of North 
America outside the historical range of the eastern puma. We can thus 
conclude that pumas and, in particular, puma populations, could be 
detected with a reasonable amount of effort if present in eastern North 
America. We further conclude that the searches, surveys, and efforts to 
verify sightings by the public since the 1950s constitute a reasonable 
effort, as discussed below and detailed in the 5-year review (USFWS 
2011, pp. 26-29). However, despite the detectability of pumas, no 
evidence has been presented to verify the continued existence of the 
eastern subspecies or of any breeding population of pumas within its 
historical range.
    Contemporary accounts of pumas in eastern North America as evidence 
of the continuing existence of the subspecies: As discussed in the 5-
year review (USFWS 2011, pp. 36-38), renewed interest in puma 
conservation over the past 60 years has resulted not only in a 
profusion of reported sightings by the public but also efforts by 
scientists to determine the presence of pumas in eastern North America. 
We summarize these accounts below and discuss whether they constitute a 
basis for concluding that the eastern puma remains extant.
    There were few reports of pumas in eastern North America between 
the late 1800s and the 1940s and 1950s (see ``Historical Range, 
Abundance, and Distribution'' above). The number of reports increased 
in the 1950s, and states, provinces, and puma organizations began 
maintaining databases of puma sightings. The increased reporting 
coincided with coverage in the popular press and assertions by 
biologists and other writers that there was sufficient evidence to 
believe that the eastern puma still existed. It also coincided with a 
growing number of pumas in the North American pet trade.
    A surge in reported sightings followed in the 1960s and 1970s, 
again coincident with publications claiming that a relic population of 
pumas from the northeastern United States and eastern Canada was 
repopulating eastern North America. Although based mostly on 
questionable evidence, many--including wildlife biologists--accepted 
this hypothesis without critical scientific review.
    The sheer volume of anecdotal reports was cited as evidence for the 
continued existence of pumas, although few of these reports were ever 
substantiated. By the 1970s, puma advocacy groups had been established, 
and they, along with many independent researchers and advocates, were 
investigating sightings and promoting puma recovery. This led to the 
1973 listing of the eastern cougar, even though there was no physical 
evidence showing that populations existed at that time.
    Since listing, thousands of reports have been collected by wildlife 
agencies and puma organizations, including hundreds of puma sightings 
by reliable witnesses where physical evidence was not available. Most 
recently, during preparation of the eastern puma 5-year review (from 
2007 to 2010), 60 reports of pumas were considered to have some 
likelihood of validity based on verified identification of tracks; 
photographic evidence; genetic, hair, or scat samples; or discovery of 
carcasses (USFWS 2011, appendix B). It is important to note that none 
of these reports was verified as the eastern subspecies.
    A number of formal studies have been undertaken to determine the 
presence of pumas in eastern North America. One study (Michigan 
Wildlife Conservancy 2003) detected pumas, but the results and 
methodology were subsequently contested. Elsewhere in the Midwest, 
pumas have been detected with trail cameras. A puma sighted in 
Wisconsin was verified in January 2008 and shot in Chicago, Illinois, 
in April 2008. This animal was determined to be of North American 
origin with characteristics similar to South Dakota pumas. In 2009, 
another Wisconsin puma was treed and photographed on several occasions; 
DNA analysis was not available for this animal. In eastern Canada, a 
survey of the Maritime provinces from 2001 to 2004 (Gauthier et al. 
2005, entire) confirmed six samples as puma. Of these six samples, 
several were found to be of South American origin, indicating that 
released or escaped captive pumas are also present in the wild, while 
others were verified as North American genotypes without being able to 
determine if they were of captive or wild origin.
    Overall, most of the surveys conducted by wildlife biologists in 
eastern North America--some of which have targeted pumas while others 
have targeted different species (e.g., wolves, lynx)-- have failed to 
detect any sign or evidence of the presence of pumas. Details of each 
survey effort are provided in the eastern puma 5-year review (USFWS 
2011, pp. 26-29 and appendix B).
    Many puma sightings are reported as ``eyewitness'' accounts; this 
type of report has increased with the availability of Internet search 
engines and is sometimes spurred by news articles that encourage others 
to report observations. The reliability of such accounts can depend on 
time of day, experience level of the observer, duration of the 
observation, and observer trustworthiness. Insufficient field 
identification and tracking skills, as well as photographs of single 
tracks rather than a series of tracks, may further compromise 
reliability. Based on our assessment of puma eyewitness accounts (USFWS 
2011, pp. 36-42), it appears that 90 to 95 percent of puma sightings 
and vocalizations reported by the public involve instances of 
misidentification and, at times, deliberate hoaxes.
    Although documention of sightings by the public in areas where 
pumas are uncommon can be useful--particularly where protocols for puma 
sightings and analysis have been established--compilations of 
unconfirmed sighting reports can also produce a large volume of cogent 
but misleading information. The problem with treating anecdotal 
sightings as empirical evidence is compounded when such observations 
are supplemented by inconclusive physical evidence such as indistinct 
photographs. Typically, as a species becomes rarer, the proportion of 
false positives increases; thus, even the most tangible evidence of a 
puma must be followed by further inquiry to identify it as a wild 
specimen and ascertain its origins.
    Over the past 50 years, thousands of puma sightings have been 
investigated, at substantial public and private expense. Only a small 
percentage of investigations have resulted in collection of evidence 
that could be interpreted or further analyzed, and only a small 
percentage of the analyses have provided irrefutable proof of a

[[Page 34602]]

wild puma. The most recent case was a male puma killed on a highway in 
Milford, Connecticut, in 2011. Genetic analysis of the animal 
determined that its origin was a population in South Dakota, indicating 
that it was a transient western puma; the same animal had been 
documented in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and northern New York prior to 
arriving in Connecticut.
    Despite the large number of contemporary eastern puma accounts, few 
of the surveys and investigations of puma reports have provided 
verifiable evidence of the presence of pumas, irrespective of origin, 
in eastern North America, and even fewer have provided irrefutable 
proof of a wild puma. Nonetheless, verified puma occurrences have 
occurred with enough frequency in eastern North America (approximately 
15 puma carcasses have been documented in eastern North America north 
of Florida since 1950) to encourage a widespread belief that a cryptic 
eastern puma population continues to persist.
    In considering whether all this constitutes evidence of an extant 
eastern puma population, three possible hypotheses have been 
considered: First, that the observed animals are members of a 
persistent relic population; second, that they are released or escaped 
captives; or, third, that they are dispersers from source populations 
outside of the region. These hypotheses are discussed, in turn, below.
    1. A relic population of pumas has survived in eastern North 
America. Although some hypothesize that the eastern puma has survived 
in eastern North America since colonial times, the continued existence 
of a puma population in eastern North America is not corroborated by 
the historical record, the history of white-tailed deer, or our current 
understanding of puma ecology (USFWS 2011, pp. 43-46).
    As noted above, most eastern pumas were thought to have been 
virtually extirpated by the late 1800s. Had members of the subspecies 
survived, they should have been detectable. With some exceptions (e.g., 
later records in Maine and New Brunswick) authors document a near-
absence of records from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Further, despite 
the verified reports of pumas mentioned above, whenever we have been 
able to determine the origins of these pumas, they have been shown to 
be either captive pumas (generally South American pumas or their 
progeny) or dispersers from western populations. None of these animals 
has been confirmed as the eastern subspecies.
    A number of population viability analyses indicate that both a 
minimum population size and minimum area of high-quality habitat are 
needed for long-term puma persistence. The probability of population 
persistence also depends on favorable demographic factors. Studies to 
date indicate, very approximately, that puma populations consisting of 
fewer than 15 to 20 animals and occupying less than 386 to 772 mi\2\ 
(1,000 to 2,000 km\2\) of high-quality habitat would be unlikely to 
persist over the long term, particularly in the face of any adverse 
genetic effects (USFWS 2011, pp. 8 and 46). Effects of postsettlement 
persecution of eastern pumas, compounded by loss of habitat and the 
near-extirpation of white-tailed deer, severely reduced the probability 
of persistence using both of these measures. Pumas likely survived 
longest in remaining large forest tracts where deer were not extirpated 
and at the northern periphery of their historical range as deer shifted 
northward (which would explain the later puma records in Maine and New 
Brunswick). To survive elsewhere in the East, puma populations would 
have had to persist for decades with extremely low or absent 
populations of their primary prey, and such persistence is doubtful. 
Even in northern regions, deer populations were greatly reduced, and 
snow depths there would have been limiting for pumas.
    This information, along with the total absence of verified 
contemporary eastern puma records, suggests that a remnant population 
of eastern pumas is highly unlikely to have survived two centuries of 
intense human exploitation and persecution, habitat changes, and near-
eradication of its primary prey. Further, were a relic puma population 
to have survived, the rebounding of deer populations along with 
protections from take under the Act would have likely resulted in a 
corresponding increase in documentation of eastern puma presence and 
increased likelihood of deterction. Given the lack of verified 
contemporary records, we therefore find no evidence to support the 
hypothesis that an undetected relic population of eastern pumas remains 
    2. Pumas occurring in eastern North America are released or escaped 
pets. Since the mid-1900s, there has been speculation that perhaps all 
pumas observed in eastern North America (outside of Florida) are 
escaped or released captive animals. The findings regarding this 
hypothesis, presented in the 5-year review (USFWS 2011) on pp. 47-51 
and in Appendix B, are summarized below.
    Genetic techniques are now available to determine if puma specimens 
are of North American origin and therefore more likely to be wild 
animals. Captive puma enthusiasts apparently favor Central and South 
American animals, and it can be assumed that pumas found in eastern 
North America with South American DNA are escaped or released captives 
or their progeny. Since the early 1990s, 24 puma genetic samples have 
been collected within the historic range of the eastern puma and tested 
using a variety of techniques (USFWS 2011, Appendix B). Of these, about 
one-third were found to be of Central or South American origin, one-
third were of North American origin, and one-third were identified as 
pumas but of unknown origin.
    In addition to genetic evidence, the increasing frequency of 
reported puma sightings in the eastern United States and Canada 
correlates with the increased private ownership, trade, and breeding of 
pumas that began in the 1940s and 1950s. Zoos formerly sold or gave 
pumas to individuals or dealers, although this is strictly prohibited 
today and there currently is a ban on breeding pumas in zoos. More 
recently, Internet sales of exotic cats have flourished, illustrating 
the continuing ease of acquiring captive pumas. This situation is 
exacerbated in some States by enforcement challenges, and these States' 
lack of information about the number and disposition of captive pumas 
within their borders. Overall, there are likely thousands of privately-
held (both legally and illegally) pumas in the eastern United States, 
dwarfing the number of pumas in zoos.
    Released or escaped pumas are documented in numerous accounts, 
along with frequent reports of such pumas being recaptured (USFWS 2011, 
pp. 49-50). It has also been found that individual captive pumas may 
successfully adapt to conducive conditions in the wild. If released or 
escaped captives initially avoid recapture or death, they most likely 
become wandering transients. Overall, it may be possible, although 
unlikely, for individual captive pumas to transition into a wild 
existence, establish home ranges, and, like other transient pumas, 
persist with low detectability.
    Nonetheless, the likelihood of escaped or released captive pumas 
establishing breeding populations is minimal, both because transient 
pumas are unlikely to recolonize new areas unless there is an adjacent 
resident puma population, and because their survival prospects are 
generally low. The multiple reports we have received of pumas in a 
geographic location over a period of months (but not years) could 
constitute actual observations of

[[Page 34603]]

escaped animals. However, if these animals are declawed or defanged, 
they have little chance of surviving over the long term, particularly 
at rates needed to establish a population. Further, few of the many 
reported sightings of puma kittens in eastern North America, which 
would be indicative of a breeding population, have been substantiated 
(USFWS 2011, p. 51).
    We conclude that the evidence supports the hypothesis that pumas 
recently found in eastern North America are released or escaped captive 
animals, with the exception of some animals in Illinois, Wisconsin, and 
other midwestern States that are dispersing from more westward 
populations (see discussion below). Genetic and isotope techniques are 
improving, which will help distinguish whether pumas of North American 
ancestry are of wild or captive origin.
    3. Pumas in eastern North America are dispersers from breeding 
populations to the west and south. Breeding puma populations in 
proximity to the eastern puma's historical range occur in Manitoba, 
North Dakota, South Dakota, possibly Nebraska and Oklahoma, and 
Florida. The Service's 5-year review discusses the likelihood of 
immigration of pumas to eastern North America from these populations 
(USFWS 2011, pp. 51-56).
    Regarding dispersal from Florida, there was little evidence until 
recently that the Florida panther population was expanding northward, 
but since 1998, four tagged and several unmarked animals have crossed 
the Caloosahatchee River, previously thought to be a barrier to 
northward expansion. In addition, an adult male puma killed in Georgia 
in 2008 originated in Florida. Nonetheless, given the many other 
substantial barriers to dispersal, it is considered highly unlikely 
that Florida panthers are dispersing out of Florida with enough 
frequency to establish populations elsewhere in the Southeast, although 
adequate prey and habitat are available in Georgia.
    As to dispersal from the West, puma populations in most western 
States are believed to be at historically high levels, and breeding 
populations have expanded their ranges eastward. Dispersing pumas have 
been reported since 1990 in the Midwest, primarily west of the 
Mississippi River and possibly the Great Lakes Region, with over 130 
confirmed puma records documented in Wisconsin, Illinois, Nebraska, 
Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Iowa.
    These records confirm that eastward dispersal from breeding 
populations of western pumas is occurring, especially from North and 
South Dakota (note the previous mention of a South Dakota puma killed 
in Connecticut in 2011). Confirmed records of wild-origin pumas exist 
in many States and provinces bordering the western and northern 
peripheries of the eastern puma's historical range, and most States in 
the Midwest now acknowledge the presence of wild pumas. Further, 
persistent puma presence has been documented in a few areas (Missouri, 
Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska), suggesting that individual pumas are 
successfully surviving in the wild and may have established home 
    Suitable, albeit sometimes fragmented, habitat and an adequate prey 
base are available for pumas in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions, 
with large populations of white-tailed deer occurring throughout the 
region. Moreover, numerous dispersal corridors leading to highly 
suitable habitat areas in the Midwest have been identified within 
feasible dispersal distances for pumas. Although dispersing pumas 
frequently travel along deer-rich riparian corridors and generally 
avoid human-dominated landscapes, pumas are known to disperse across 
large expanses of inhospitable habitat. Roads and railroad rights-of-
way and associated brush belts also provide dispersal corridors. The 
upper Midwest Region is the most favorable route for cougars 
repopulating the East from the Dakotas, and Manitoba's puma population 
may be a potential source for animals observed in Ontario, northern 
Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan.
    Although individual males are known to disperse over long 
distances, the establishment of puma populations in the Midwest and 
Great Lakes regions is less likely to occur unless breeding range 
expansion is facilitated. Female pumas do not move far from their natal 
areas, and male pumas compete for access to females; that is, in 
addition to adequate food and cover, dispersing males search for areas 
occupied by one or more resident females. Thus, range expansion is 
unlikely unless females disperse--or are released--into new habitats. 
As would be expected, most of the recent Midwest puma records are of 
    Given evidence of growing puma populations in the West, increased 
dispersal, and availability of dispersal corridors and prey in the 
Midwest, we conclude that wild-origin pumas (primarily males) will 
continue to disperse into the midwestern States and into the historical 
range of the eastern puma and are the likely source of any wild pumas 
that currently exist in eastern North America.
    Summary: First, it is important to note that the alternative 
hypotheses for the continuing presence of pumas in eastern North 
America are not mutually exclusive. Physical evidence indicates that 
pumas recently found in eastern North America are released or escaped 
captive animals, with the exception of some wild animals in the Midwest 
(and one documented in Connecticut) that are dispersing from western 
populations. The evidence also suggests that these are transient pumas 
with little potential for naturally establishing breeding populations.
    Most significantly, no evidence whatsoever has been found to show 
that either individual eastern pumas or any relic populations of the 
eastern puma subspecies remain extant in eastern North America.
    Time since last verified eastern puma report: The most recently 
confirmed records of pumas native to eastern North America are from 
Tennessee (1930), New Brunswick (1932), and Maine (1938). These records 
coincide with the extirpation of white-tailed deer in most of its range 
in the 1800s, with the exception of some remaining large forest tracts, 
and a shift toward the northern periphery of its historical range 
during that time. Reports of pumas were made by reputable observers in 
Missouri as late as 1966, but the taxonomy of these animals has long 
been in question.
    It is notable that areas in eastern North America that still 
support extant populations of native pumas (e.g., Florida and Manitoba) 
have had a long and continuous record of confirmed occurrences. In 
contrast, a long-term record of verified puma occurrences is lacking in 
regions of eastern North America outside Florida.
    Given the puma's life span, generally thought to be 10 to 11 years, 
it is extremely implausible that non-breeding eastern pumas could have 
persisted in the wild under conditions of habitat loss and lack of 
their primary prey base and without being detected for over six 
decades. It is equally if not more unlikely that breeding populations 
of the subspecies could have gone undetected for that long. Based on 
how improbable it is that eastern puma individuals or populations could 
have weathered such a long period of habitat and prey loss, along with 
the lack of either a recent report or a long-term record of eastern 
puma occurrences, we conclude that the time since the last verified 
eastern puma record is indicative of the long-term absence of this 

[[Page 34604]]

    Summary: Overall, we find that pumas (except for single transients) 
are reasonably detectable, that no contemporary puma sightings in 
eastern North America have been verified as the eastern puma subspecies 
since 1938, and that it is extremely unlikely that either individuals 
or eastern puma populations could have survived the long period during 
which most of their habitat was lost and their primary prey base was 
nearly extirpated. We therefore determine the eastern puma subspecies 
to be extinct.

Consideration of Factors Under Section 4(a)(1) of the Act

    As mentioned under Assessment of Species Status above, section 4 of 
the Act and its implementing regulations (50 CFR part 424) set forth 
the procedures for listing, reclassifying, or removing species from 
listed status. When we evaluate whether a species should be listed as 
an endangered species or threatened species, we must consider the five 
listing factors described in section 4(a)(1) of the Act: (A) The 
present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of the 
species' habitat or range; (B) overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (C) disease or 
predation; (D) the inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and 
(E) other natural or manmade factors affecting the species' continued 
existence. We must consider these same factors in reclassifying a 
species or removing it from the List.
    The principal factors leading to the listing of the eastern puma 
were widespread persecution (poisoning, trapping, hunting, and 
bounties), decline of forested habitat, and near-extirpation of white-
tailed deer populations during the 1800s. These impacts led to the 
extirpation of most eastern puma populations by 1900.
    However, because we have determined that all populations of pumas 
described as the eastern puma, Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar, have 
been extirpated, analysis of the five factors under section 4(a)(1) of 
the Act, which apply to threats facing extant species, is tragically 
irrelevant. As stated above, given the period of time that has passed 
without verification of even a single eastern puma, the Service 
believes that the last remaining members of this subspecies perished 
decades ago. Therefore, the eastern puma is no longer extant and 
logically can no longer be an endangered species or threatened species 
because of any of the five factors.


    Widespread persecution, decline of forested habitat, and near-
extirpation of white-tailed deer populations during the 1800s led to 
the loss of most eastern puma populations by 1900. Although individual 
pumas were taken as late as 1932 in New Brunswick and 1938 in Maine, 
neither the Service's 5-year status review (USFWS 2011) nor information 
that has become available since then has yielded any convincing 
evidence to support the hypothesis that small, cryptic populations of 
the subspecies continue to persist anywhere within its historical 
range, including northern New England and eastern Canada. These 
findings are supported by the most recent Canadian Wildlife Service 
status review (Scott 1998) and by analyses in the revised Florida 
Panther Recovery Plan (USFWS 2008). We therefore conclude that the 
subspecies Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar, or eastern puma (=cougar), 
was likely extirpated from eastern North America prior to its listing 
in 1973, noting, however, that extirpation had not been substantiated 
at that time.
    We further conclude that although there have been thousands of puma 
sightings in eastern North America since the 1950s, most are a case of 
mistaken identity. We acknowledge that a small number of pumas are 
occasionally encountered in the wild in eastern North America within 
the historical range of the listed eastern puma. Based on the best 
available scientific evidence, however, we conclude that these are 
escaped or released captive animals, or dispersers from western puma 
populations, not the eastern puma subspecies. Breeding of escaped or 
released individuals, if it occurs, appears to be an extremely rare 
event, and there is no evidence of any population established from 
escaped or released captive animals.
    Although it is improbable that pumas can disperse regularly out of 
Florida, puma range expansion may be occurring in the Midwest from the 
West. Several wild-origin pumas have been confirmed in that region and 
are likely dispersers from western populations that have reached 
carrying capacity. Dispersal into the Midwest will likely increase in 
frequency as long as western puma populations continue to grow.
    With regard to puma taxonomy, we recognize the ongoing debate among 
scientists about the taxonomic assignment of puma subspecies and 
whether genetics should be the driving factor in puma taxonomy. 
Although Culver et al.'s (2000, entire) genetic analysis injected 
significant uncertainties into current puma taxonomy, we have concluded 
that until a comprehensive evaluation (including genetic, morphometric, 
and behavioral analyses) of North American pumas is completed, the best 
available information continues to support the assignment of the 
eastern taxon to Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar. We further note that 
these taxonomic questions do not affect the determinations in this 
proposed rule regarding the listed entity's biological status.
    Taking all these considerations into account, we conclude that the 
taxon Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar is extinct.

Proposed Determination

    After a thorough review of all available information, we have 
determined that the subspecies Puma (=Felis) concolor couguar is 
extinct. Based upon this determination and taking into consideration 
the definitions of ``endangered species'' and ``threatened species'' 
contained in the Act and the reasons for delisting as specified in 50 
CFR 424.11(d), we propose to remove the eastern puma from the List of 
Endangered and Threatened Wildlife at 50 CFR 17.11.

Available Conservation Measures

    Conservation measures provided to species listed as endangered or 
threatened under the Act include recognition, recovery actions, 
requirements for Federal protection, and prohibitions against certain 
practices. However, since the Service has determined the eastern cougar 
to be extinct, this proposed rule, if made final, would remove any 
Federal conservation measures for any individual pumas (except 
dispersing Florida panthers) that may subsequently be found within the 
historical range of the eastern puma.

Effects of the Rule

    This proposal, if made final, would revise 50 CFR 17.11 to remove 
the eastern puma from the List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife 
due to extinction. The prohibitions and conservation measures provided 
by the Act would no longer apply to this subspecies. There is no 
designated critical habitat for the eastern puma.

Post-Delisting Monitoring

    Section 4(g)(1) of the Act, added in the 1988 reauthorization, 
requires us to implement a program, in cooperation with the States, to 
monitor for not less than 5 years the status of all species that have 
recovered and been removed from the Lists of Endangered and Threatened

[[Page 34605]]

Wildlife and Plants (50 CFR 17.11 and 17.12). Based upon the results of 
more than 25 years of investigating sporadic reports of sightings and 
our conclusion that the eastern puma is extinct, post-delisting 
monitoring is not warranted.

Required Determinations

Clarity of the Rule

    We are required by Executive Orders 12866 and 12988 and by the 
Presidential Memorandum of June 1, 1998, to write all rules in plain 
language. This means that each rule we publish must:
    (a) Be logically organized;
    (b) Use the active voice to address readers directly;
    (c) Use clear language rather than jargon;
    (d) Be divided into short sections and sentences; and
    (e) Use lists and tables wherever possible.
    If you feel that we have not met these requirements, send us 
comments by one of the methods listed in ADDRESSES. To better help us 
revise the rule, your comments should be as specific as possible. For 
example, you should tell us the names of the sections or paragraphs 
that are unclearly written, which sections or sentences are too long, 
the sections where you feel lists or tables would be useful, etc.

National Environmental Policy Act

    We have determined that an environmental assessment or an 
environmental impact statement, as defined under the authority of the 
National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, need not be prepared in 
connection with regulations adopted pursuant to section 4(a) of the 
Act. We published a notice outlining our reasons for this determination 
in the Federal Register on October 25, 1983 (48 FR 49244).

Government-to-Government Relationship With Tribes

    In accordance with the President's memorandum of April 29, 1994, 
Government-to-Government Relations with Native American Tribal 
Governments (59 FR 22951), E.O. 13175, and the Department of the 
Interior's manual at 512 DM 2, we readily acknowledge our 
responsibility to communicate meaningfully with recognized Federal 
Tribes on a government-to-government basis. In accordance with 
Secretarial Order 3206 of June 5, 1997 (American Indian Tribal Rights, 
Federal-Tribal Trust Responsibilities, and the Endangered Species Act), 
we readily acknowledge our responsibilities to work directly with 
Tribes in developing programs for healthy ecosystems, to acknowledge 
that tribal lands are not subject to the same controls as Federal 
public lands, to remain sensitive to Indian culture, and to make 
information available to Tribes. Accordingly, the Service communicated 
with Tribes during the 5-year review process, and we are notifying 
Tribes of our activities regarding this proposal to delist the eastern 
puma based on extinction.

References Cited

    A complete list of all references cited in this document and in the 
5-year review upon which this proposal is based is available upon 
request from the Service's Maine Field Office (see FOR FURTHER 
INFORMATION CONTACT). References are also posted on http://www.fws.gov/northeast/ECougar.


    The primary authors of this proposed rule are the staff members of 
the Maine Field Office and the Hadley, Massachusetts, Regional Office.

List of Subjects in 50 CFR Part 17

    Endangered and threatened species, Exports, Imports, Reporting and 
recordkeeping requirements, Transportation.

Proposed Regulation Promulgation

    Accordingly, we propose to amend part 17, subchapter B of chapter 
I, title 50 of the Code of Federal Regulations, as set forth below:


1. The authority citation for part 17 continues to read as follows:

    Authority: 16 U.S.C. 1361-1407; 1531-1544; 4201-4245, unless 
otherwise noted.

Sec.  17.11  [Amended]

2. Amend Sec.  17.11(h) by removing the entry for ``Puma (=cougar), 
eastern'' under ``Mammals'' in the ``List of Endangered and Threatened 

    Dated: May 22, 2015.
Stephen Guertin,
Acting Director, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
[FR Doc. 2015-14931 Filed 6-16-15; 8:45 am]