Not quite a month ago a young male cougar was literally munching his way through the neighborhood around Highland Park in Bend. Several family pets went missing – the remains of one pet was discovered with signs that it was likely prey to a cougar.
Bend Police put up signs and alerted the neighbors to stay inside, keep pets close by and report any sign of a very large cat.
A month earlier Bend Police were alerted that a more mature male cougar was hiding just off the main trail leading up to the top of Pilot Butte. From his perch the animal had a bird’s eye view of people walking directly under him. At that time Bend Police tried to contact ODFW to get guidance on what to do about the animal. ODFW didn’t have anyone to send. So Bend Police did what police usually do – they came down on the side of public safety. The cougar was shot dead where it was hiding.
Late last year in southeast Bend, a cougar hold-up in a tree in a residential neighborhood was anesthetized and then put-down – ODFW saying the animal had lost its fear of people and would just come back into town if it was released into the wild.
Somewhat predictably there was a large public hue and cry about the way authorities were handling cougar intrusions into town. Top city officials began to realize that they were not the only agency wrestling with what to do with big cat urban invaders which, it was feared, were literally looking for a “domain” – a hunting area, inside Bend’s city limits.
Enter Bend Parks & Recreation.
Bend Parks and Recreation is building parks and designated nature areas not only in town but on some of the outskirts that are encroaching on cougar habitat – Riley Ranch Nature Preserve, for one. Well aware of what’s happening, Bend Parks and Recreation Commissioners Tuesday night said the community, as a whole, needs predictable procedures on what to do in the event of a cougar sighting or evidence that a cougar is operating in an area – perhaps within a well used park.
Commissioners said Bend City Hall and the Parks and Recreation District need their staffs to get together, under the guidance and advice of Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to formulate proper procedures to deal with cougars. Cougars are already frequent visitors to the Shevlin Park trail system as it runs up and down Tumalo Creek. It was observed by Parks and Recreation staff that there have been five cougar sightings inside public parks over the past ten years. Staff said most cougars are simply moving from one area to another – generally just passing through urban neighborhoods.
Commissioner Nathan Hovekamp, who is well educated in the natural environment and the critters that live in it, observed that there has never been a cougar attack on any human being in the history of Oregon. He said ODFW records show that their criteria for lawfully killing a cougar have seldom, if ever been met – that those kills have been made mostly out of fear rather than reason as witnessed in the cougar slaying by police on Pilot Butte in March.
Hovekamp agreed with ODFW recommendations when dealing with a cougar:
* Leave them alone
* Post warning signs if a cougar is spotted in the area
* Close a park if necessary
* If spotted, make loud noises
* If justified use rubber, not steel bullets. Use other non-lethal means to get them to move on.
The commission agreed that proper procedures need to be made clear to any and all agencies that find themselves being asked to do something about an “in town” cougar.
The commission asked Parks and Recreation staff to launch meetings with Bend city staff, along with ODFW and USFWS as advisors, with an aim to establish a protocol on what to do about the big cats – 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Parks and Recreation Chairman Dan Fishkin said preserving a safe environment for families when using parks and recreation areas is paramount in his mind. But Nathan Hovekamp immediately offered a reminder that the Bend Parks and Recreation District is committed to being trustees and protectors of Bend’s natural environment and of the the wildlife that depend on those lands for their very survival. Fishkin quickly agreed but added that it’s a balance of the two values – visitor safety vs. wildlife protection – and as far as he’s concerned family safety is paramount. Hovekamp quickly retorted that cougars are not the threat to humans that too many people believe they are.
In the end, staff was instructed to begin meeting with Bend city officials to arrange strategy sessions on how best to deal with Bend’s cougar problem.
Once the new procedures are in place, perhaps cougar kills can become less frequent than what has become a worrisome development in and around Bend.