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Are Cougars A Threat To You?

A local rancher came into our small town’s cafe and excitedly told his domino playing buddies about his encounter with a mountain lion the night before. His bull was sick and the vet had moved it to a corral near the ranch house so it could be checked on easier.  After dark the rancher heard the bull bellowing loudly and  he walked to the corral to make sure the bull was ok. When he entered the corral and approached the bull he noticed blood and cuts on its neck.

Suddenly a sizeable animal bolted out of the shadows and over the top of the corral and hurried away. It was a mountain lion. And in the morning the bull had been clawed viciously and eaten on … and it was stone dead

Mountain lions are commonly called cougars or pumas. They are one of North America’s most reclusive predators, and they are proverbial killing machines. And in some parts of the U.S. they are are a problem.

Days before leaving for college an Idaho college student was bowhunting whitetails on opening day of  archery season. He’d patterned a nice whitetail buck and was watching it in a field where he was waiting in ambush. Behind him, he heard a noise and thinking it was another deer, he turned; and saw a crouched mountain lion staring straight at him — the lion was only 14 feet away! With the small of the cougar’s back his only target, he quickly aimed and released his arrow. The lion jumped, turned and bounded away and dropped 80 yards away. Idaho Fish and Game cleared the incident as self-defense. The hunter didn’t get to keep the lion, but the event remains a lifetime memory.

Unlike many grizzly attacks where the bear is protecting a kill or its cubs, attacking mountain lions usually have one intention—to kill you. Young cougars, typically hungry males searching to establish a territory, are often the most aggressive. Old, injured, malnourished lions driven by hunger also have been known to become aggressive. Young children or small adults are the most vulnerable to wild animal attacks.

Mountain lions are expanding their range from Western states and Florida. Actual sightings or physical evidence have been noted in 11 Midwestern and Eastern states.

Though most biologists believe populations of mountain lions are healthy in Western states, in recent years anti-hunting movements have arisen to protect mountain lions by opposing hunting them with dogs. Essentially, banning or restricting hunting options limits biologists’ ability to control cougar populations. California residents in 1990 passed Proposition 117, which banned all mountain lion hunting and made the animals a “specially protected species.”

California further expanded its oversight of mountain lion control. The governor signed into law a bill requiring California Department of Fish and Game officials to use nonlethal procedures when responding to mountain lions not designated as public health threats. Finding a mountain lion in a back yard apparently is no longer enough to justify wildlife officers’ use of professional expertise to deal with such incidents.

In Oregon hunting for cougars is allowed, but not with dogs. Recently, Oregon’s House of Representatives passed a bill reintroducing hunting with dogs in an effort to return to a practice banned by voters in 1994. The bill died in the Oregon Senate, despite reports of increased sightings of mountain lions state wide.

In 1996 Washington voters passed a statewide initiative banning cougar hunting with dogs. Cougars continued to be hunted without dogs during general season. Dogs were used only under WDFW authority to address specific public-safety issues with cougars. In 2004, in response to complaints of lions killing livestock as well as conflicts with humans, particularly in the northeastern part of state, the legislature approved limited cougar permit hunts with dogs in some game management units. In 2011 the legislature dropped the permits with dogs. At the same time, overall cougar hunting harvest was reviewed, based on cougar population research. In 2012 Washington standardized the cougar hunting without dogs season (Sept. 1-March 31) that uses harvest guidelines and closes units after Jan. 1 when harvest guidelines are reached. Today, dogs can be used on cougars in Washington only under WDFW authority to address public safety issues.

Control of predators certainly incites impassioned controversy. Phil Cooper, an Idaho Department of Fish and Game information officer, said: “Anytime we have a problem with any predator, someone is unhappy. Those who lose a pet or livestock are mad that we can’t control the situation. When we do remove a problem animal, someone always complains that the animal was only doing what wild animals do. As humans move deeper into what have always been unhunted lands, these problems will continue to plague us. We may not like it, but it’s a problem we must learn to live with.”

In September 2003, St. Maries Idaho, school officials locked down all their schools. A mountain lion was strolling through the site of a grade school. Apparently the problem, continues.

ABOVE: A sign along a public walking trail inorms people that the area is “mountain lion country.” 

People confronting a lion are told to make themselves look as large as possible, even to the extent of standing on a stump or using their arms to spread a jacket wide.

Running away from a lion is also considered a trigger for their prey drive. People are advised to try to stand their ground against a threatening lion.

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