If you’ve followed local social media, you may have noticed an uptick in cougar sightings being reported throughout Columbia County. According to Chip Bubl, with the Oregon State University Extension Service, there are several reasons we may be seeing these large cats more often.
Bubl said the uptick in sightings may be due, in part, to the ban on recreational cougar hunting with dogs that took effect in 1994. Over the past 25 years, with fewer hunters after them, their numbers may have grown. Additionally, an ample deer population has supported their growth. The intense logging that has taken place on private industrial and non-industrial timber land has been steadily changing the locations for the cougar’s main prey, creating more corridors for the deer’s rapid movement, thus pushing the cougar into closer proximity to more densely populated rural areas. Some very dry springs and summers have also changed animal behavior patterns as their search for water has become more of an issue, according to Bubl, which also impacted deer and cougar locations.
Another factor in the uptick in sightings comes down to the technology more people have access to these days. With more homes investing in motion-detecting cameras, people are getting a better view of the animals that cross their land, especially at night. Add to that the means to report such sightings on social media, Bubl said it’s possible that a cougar sighting in one area could be the same cougar seen ten miles away, as they have very large ranges. “People getting the information on both are geographically and perhaps social media separated and don’t know they are reporting the same cougars,” Bubl said.
Additionally, Bubl said, animal injury without clear evidence of the cause is often misinterpreted. “We recently received some pictures that looked like they could have been cougar claw marks on an animal’s leg but when I sent them to our local ODFW big game biologist on Sauvie Island, he was quite sure it wasn’t a cougar,” Bubl said. “He passed the pics on to other ODFW big game biologists across the state and they concurred with his evaluation. So, the picture, so to speak, is complicated.”
Any resident who spots a cougar should report the sighting to the Sheriff’s Office and the Sauvie Island office of ODFW at 503-621-3488. If the cougar is spotted near a school or the edge of town, you should also report it to City Hall and the local school district, as well. Bubl said Columbia City has had several cougar sightings in the past year, mostly near the north edge of town.
Bubl said anyone living in cougar country should educate themselves on the large cats. According to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, if you encounter a cougar, there are several things to keep in mind:
- Cougars often will retreat if given the opportunity. Leave the animal a way to escape.
- Stay calm and stand your ground.
- Maintain direct eye contact.
- Pick up children, but do so without bending down or turning your back on the cougar.
- Back away slowly.
- Do not run. Running triggers a chase response in cougars, which could lead to an attack.
- Raise your voice and speak firmly.
- If the cougar seems aggressive, raise your arms to make yourself look larger and clap your hands.
- If in the very unusual event that a cougar attacks you, fight back with rocks, sticks, bear or pepper spray, tools or any items available.
Ultimately, it is important to remember that, in the grand scheme of things, cougars play an important role in the western Oregon ecosystem – keeping deer and perhaps even coyote populations lower to allow native plants and other species to flourish.
But, Bubl said, for many people, that is a hard sell. “I have walked logging roads behind my house for a number of years and never seen a cougar, but I know they are around,” Bubl said. “There have been a number of sightings – not sure how many are unique animals – in Deer Island this spring and summer.”