A decision by state officials to euthanize a cougar in east Portland last week is drawing criticism from some wildlife experts – and raising questions on how concerned residents should be.
Brooks Fahy is the executive director of Predator Defense, a conservation group based in Eugene.
He says Portland residents shouldn’t be too surprised by a cougar sighting.
“Cougars have been moving through East Portland and Northwest Portland ... it’s nothing new,” Fahy said.
But he said killing cougars is nevertheless the default choice for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, which sets policy and issues hunting tags.
“We have one of the most heavily hunted cougar populations in the American West. We’re killing more cougars in Oregon than during the bounty era,” he said.
The cougar was captured in a cedar tree near the 2900 block of NE 121st Avenue.
ODFW spokesman Rick Swart says his agency kills rather than relocates adult cougars that have been urbanized, or habituated to humans (which means multiple sighting over multiple days during daylight hours). Fish and Wildlife officials also don’t bring adult cougars to zoos or other facilities because they might create territorial conflicts.
Fahy says ODFW is too willing to label cougars as urbanized so they can be killed rather than relocated to the wild.
“There’s no evidence to suggest whatsoever that they’re being urbanized,” Fahy said.
David Baron is a former public radio reporter and author of a book on cougars called “The Beast in the Garden: The True Story of a Predator's Deadly Return to Suburban America.”
Baron says people’s viewpoints on cougars often very one-sided. They either see cougars as magnificent creatures humans should leave alone because they want to leave humans alone; others see cougars as dangerous creatures that could attack children and pets.
Baron says our communities have crept close to historical cougar habitat, but they’re also coming closer to our communities – and it’s partly our fault.
“We’ve created, often, very inviting habitat for cougar in our backyards,” Baron said.
He says cougars follow deer, their main prey, wherever they go. So when deer are attracted to plants in our home gardens, cougars are often close behind.
Baron says this isn’t as dangerous for people – with few fatal cougar attacks – as for our pets.
Baron encourages cats and dogs to be kept inside when cougars are most active: at night, and during the dusk and dawn.
He says you might also consider a cougar-proof kennel that includes a roof (since cougars are good jumpers).
As far as human safety, he recommends not hiking alone in cougar country.
Swart adds that it’s a good idea to cover your trashcans and keep them inside, and not to feed wild animals.
Cougar populations have rebounded since the days of bounties, and experts say more brushes with cougars should be expected.