Outdoors, Springfield

Experts: These days, cougars commonly seen in wild like deer, elk

SPRINGFIELD – The Dorris Ranch cougar sighting in the late morning on Sept. 17 caused a bit of a clamor to locals in the area, but overall, experts say their presence has become all too common.
“We’ve constantly gotten reports of (cougar sightings) over the last half-decade, or maybe even longer,” Christopher G. Yee, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW) district wildlife biologist for the Springfield office said.
In mid-July, another cougar sighting was reported between Dorris Ranch and Clearwater Park, Kenny Weigandt, program manager and community engagement specialist for Willamalane Park and Recreation said.
Yee said the number of sightings is hard to quantify because there is no record kept of cougar sightings unless the cat is deemed aggressive, has caused damage to livestock or killed pets.
“We do have this damage database where when something actually happens like someone’s livestock or pet gets killed or a cougar is actively following someone or showing aggressive behaviors, those will get logged into that database,” he said. “But we get all kinds of other calls, of people seeing animals, like this one at Dorris Ranch. We don’t even enter that into the database.”
The reason for not logging the encounter into a database is because “we know there are cougars there,” he said. “They live there. They are there year-round. And people see them quite frequently. And the majority of the time, it is just like seeing a deer or an elk.”
He said that while the number of sightings does not appear to be on the rise, Oregon “has probably been at carrying capacity for cougars for quite some time.”
Oregon is divided into six zones, one of which bisects the Willamette Valley. Springfield is in the Southwest Cascade region, which has an estimated cougar population of 1,475. Eugene is in the Coast/North Cascade region with an estimated population of 987 cougars – and that number has been steadily increasing.
“The model has indicated growing cougar populations across Oregon for many years,” according to the 2017 Oregon Cougar Management Plan. Charts on page 52 show steady growth charts for all zones from 2000-15.
Yee said that the minimum number of cougars they would ever want statewide is 3,000. He estimates the current total population of cougars in the state to be about 6,600. They have no top limit.
“We have a cougar management plan,” he said.“Every cougar that dies is supposed to be logged at our office.”
If a cougar is growling, has its ears back, is showing its teeth or stalking a person, ODFW would take action. “Anything that would be a prelude to an attack on a person, that is taken very seriously and we take immediate action,” he said. “Just seeing an animal walking around out where they live, the animal hasn’t done anything; they are a part of our ecosystem. But when they cross that line and exhibit aggressive behaviors toward people, then we intervene and take immediate action.”
Since they are territorial, it would be a “very inhumane demise” to relocate cougars into the territory of other animals, Yee said.“From a biological standpoint they are not a good animal to relocate.” For that reason, aggressive cougars are subject to lethal removal. “We do not relocate cougars,” he said. From a policy standpoint as well, “there is no wiggle room on that policy.”
Willamalane alerts the public of cougar sightings through all of their media channels such as Facebook and Twitter as well as their website. Weigandt said that they have an alert that pops up on their website that they also use for park closings due to weather and other emergency events. “It is a tool we use only when we need to raise awareness,” he said. “What we have found is that awareness is the most important thing.”
Yee said that ODFW tries to work with landowners to get them to put permanent signs at their trailheads to alert the public that there are cougars in the area, as well as bears. “They do live there in the park and in that ranch and they have been there for a very long time,” he said.



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