Cougar Comments

Cougars and catfish derbies, a book recently finished, and a troubling climate-change piece in last week’s Rolling Stone magazine. Hmmmm? Where to start?

OK, cougars. Yes, cougars, despite that recent call from a woman I’ve known for some time pleading that I cease and desist writing about them. She says she and others know of a pair, including a grayish colored female, and fears some 4-wheeler yahoos will soon shoot one dead. I don’t know what to think of such a claim, but I’m always willing to listen, toss it around internally, and “out there.”

So I did pay heed but issued no sincere pledges. Then, lo, I open up a review copy of Connecticut author Edward R. Ricciuti’s “Bears in the Backyard: Big Animals, Sprawling Suburbs, and the New Urban Jungle” and, sure enough, the first two chapters are about cougars, including “dispersers” spilling into the Northeast from the Wild West. And yes, Martha, that includes New England.

I won’t get into detail about Ricciuti’s book because I plan to review it in detail down the road. But this much I don’t hesitate to say: Ricciuti has drunk the Kool-Aid and is a believer that cougars are indeed in the process of reinhabiting the Northeast, where, in urban outskirts they could become a public health hazard as they already have in thickly settled parts of California.

As for the local take, well, I received a credible report from Rowe last week saying there had been a sighting there a couple of days earlier that sounded legit. The person who was telling his tale around town is apparently not interested in press exposure, because the woman who reached out to me and said she’d try to get me a phone number went deafeningly silent.

Meanwhile, a day or two after writing about cougars in this space a few weeks ago, the same narrative that drew the aforementioned unnamed woman’s plea drew an interesting email from hilltowner Skip Jepson, who responded from his iPhone. He claimed he’s “hunted, trapped and fished Buckland/Shelburne for 45 years and has seen two cougars. One crossed Route 2 at Wilcox Hollow, the other was on Ashfield Mountain on my way to ice-fishing at DAR.”

It gets better. His wife has also had a solo sighting “on the road to Shelburne Falls she traveled for 35 years as a teacher. Plus a friend of mine saw one cross at Wilcox Hollow. They’re up on the High Ledges, too.”
Yes indeed, the reports just keep arriving. In fact, they’ve been coming for five solid decades now, and I try to separate the wheat from the chaff. The result from the brick oven? A little, hard-crusted loaf of sumptuous bread, food for thought.

The latest Rolling Stone installment on climate change is disturbing indeed, based on a new collaborative report by NASA climate scientists James Hansen and Eric Rignot as well as other experts who agree that the globe is warming much faster than expected and has already created frightening developments along the West Coast and in the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific is warming at an alarming rate that’s softening mollusk shells and negatively impacting whales and many salmon species that could soon be only memories in a rich ecosystem called Puget Sound. Meanwhile, cars are burning in runaway wildfires crossing LA freeways, pavement is melting in India and floods of biblical proportions have occurred in Turkey, the latter two locales way out of sight, out of mind and easy to hide by those who wish to do so. With all this in mind, take a look at the nightly news maps displaying flames at the sites of all the fires ravaging western forests and rural developments alike, and you have to wonder how big-oil lobbyists and certain politicians beholden to the fossil-fuel industry can still vociferously deny global warming as a hoax. Talk about not being able to see the forest for the trees.

Oh yes, don’t want to forget the annual Connecticut River catfish derbies. First the one founded by the brothers Hallowell — Greefielders Gary and Rick — then a quick look at the granddaddy of them all, the 35th annual Holyoke Post 351 Catfish Derby, founded by the late, affable Don Partyka and taken over by the Hattens, daughter Lisa and son-in-law Mark.

Robert Bedaw of Whately won the Hallowells’ sixth-annual Last-Cast Derby, which attracted 29 anglers last weekend, headquartered at the Turners Falls Rod & Gun Clubhouse on Barton Cove. Bedaw’s channel cat tipped the scales at 15.51 pounds and brought him the $100 first prize. The rest of the top five (with weight and prize money in parenthesis) were: A.J. Sackett of Gardner (12.80, $50), Todd Sanford of Whately (12.52, $25), Miguel Delgado of Greenfield (10.69, $25) and James Lund of Greenfield. (8.44, no money). Pipione’s Sports Shop sponsored the event, which raised $200 for the local Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization.

I didn’t recognize any names among the winners from the Post 351 Derby, held July 17 through 19 “anywhere on the Connecticut River and its tributaries,” and their towns or residence were not noted. Nonetheless, the winner was Nate Taylor, whose 15-pound, 5-ounce cat brought him top prize of $300. The rest of the top five (with weight and winnings in parenthesis) were: Bruce Dufresne (13-3, $200), Mike Koske (13-1, $150), Victor Nieves (12-1, $125) and Jamie Kasulinous (12-0, $100).

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