JOHN DAY -- The sheriff of Grant County says cougars are
becoming so numerous in his sparsely settled Eastern Oregon
county that the public may be at risk.
Cougars have been reported within the city limits of John Day,
Canyon City, Dayville and Mount Vernon, Sheriff Glenn Palmer
said. In the most recent incident on Feb. 27, a Canyon City
woman telephoned to report a mountain lion in her driveway
"eyeing her dogs," he said.
"She said she knows cougars are a part of life here,
but this is just a little too close," the sheriff said.
"We've got a public safety problem. . . . We are having
people stalked and cougars running at them and cougars in
their driveways. It's not normal."
Palmer thinks special hunts or other preventive measures
might be needed close to his county's population centers. He
wants to meet with representatives of the Oregon Department of
Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Police.
The question of whether special hunts could be permitted
under state law is being researched by the state attorney
general's office, said Don Whittaker, a biologist who is the
fish and wildlife agency's program manager for cougars in
"We are waiting to see the details of the legal issues
surrounding that concept," he said.
Oregon is thought to be home to 3,000 to 5,000 cougars,
said Bruce Johnson, a research biologist with the department
in La Grande. That compares with perhaps 200 of the big cats
statewide in the 1950s. How many live in Grant County is
impossible to say, Johnson said.
Cougar numbers already were increasing in 1994 and 1996 in
Oregon when citizen initiatives were passed giving cougars and
bears greater protection from hunting, Johnson said.
Despite the secretive nature of the big cats, encounters
between cougars and humans are not uncommon in so-called
"urban-rural interface areas" in many parts of
Oregon, he said. He said a large, mature male cougar can weigh
upward of 160 pounds, while a large female often tips the
scales at 110 pounds.
No case of a human suffering a serious injury from a cougar
has been documented in the past 20 years in Oregon, Whittaker
Mountain lion populations appear healthy around the state,
and female cougars tend to produce litters of 1 to 3 kittens
every 1.6 to 1.8 years, Johnson and Whittaker said. Studies
also show survival rates ranging from 21 percent to 72
percent, Johnson said.
A close encounter with a cougar is not necessarily a
dangerous situation, Whittaker said.
"To see one doesn't mean you are in danger of losing
your life," he said, adding that a cougar's nature is to
dine on deer meat, not humans.
Still, it bothers Palmer that while cougars once "had
a natural fear of people and dogs. . . . Now it seems like
they've lost that."
Cougars have been seen at least twice during the past year
near Humbolt Elementary School serving the towns of John Day
and Canyon City, the sheriff said. One was spotted in recent
months walking across a hillside above Canyon City, and
cougars have attacked horses and cattle, killed house pets and
charged at least two hunters, the sheriff said. You can reach
Richard Cockle at 541-963-8890 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.