I just returned from a glorious week in Maine in time to see another cougar sighting reported in the local paper. Though mountain lions are listed as extinct in Massachusetts and all of the other Northeast states, this sports writer makes a habit of collecting and regularly publishing accounts like this one in his weekly outdoors column. The state’s biodiversity is on the rise, with all manner of previously extirpated critters reentering its borders, from moose to bears and fishers, so it makes sense that they’re here. But don’t tell a state biologist that. Though the grassroots group Eastern Cougar Network has recorded 11 confirmed sightings in the east in recent years, state agencies steadfastly refuse to admit they’re here.

Some say that’s because they don’t want to begin paying attention to a new animal, others because they want to be certain they’re really here before alarming the public.

Many of the reports are faulty, with the cougars proven to be anything from bobcats to dogs who like to chase deer. But when it’s hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts swearing that they’re seeing huge cats with long, looping tails, well, I find it hard to believe that they’re ALL wrong.

Can they all be escaped pets, as the agencies claim? And even if they are, is that a reason to ignore their presence?