Medford, Oregon, police learn how 2 respond 2 mountain lions

spectr17

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Police learn about taking cougar calls

They will respond to sightings inside Medford city limits, but so far, ODFW says, no big-cat attacks on humans have been reported in Oregon suburbs

By SARAH LEMON, Medford Mail Tribune

Medford police who gathered at the Immigration and Naturalization Services building recently weren't being briefed on illegal aliens.

They were learning about a different kind of immigrant, one that's leaving the surrounding forests for Medford's back yards: cougars.

Cougar populations - and complaints - have increased since hunting cougars with dogs was banned seven years ago under Ballot Measure 18, say biologists with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Reports of threats to human safety or cougars preying on pets or livestock have nearly tripled in that time. Cougar complaints routed to the ODFW Rogue District office in Central Point have gone up from 79 in 1994 to 223 last year, according to wildlife biologists' records.

"It's a one-on-one confrontation between human growth and cougar growth," said Mark Vargas, ODFW wildlife biologist.

Cougars call every city in Southern Oregon home, said John Thiebes, ODFW's Rogue Watershed District manager. Although humans are living near cougar populations, no one has ever been killed by a cougar in Oregon, he said.

But ODFW receives more cougar calls each year than wildlife biologists can handle on their own. The state agency depends on law enforcement to be the first responder when it comes to cougars. Most people call to report sightings, which ODFW doesn't record, said Thiebes. But Medford police officers respond to sightings within the city limits.

"They're probably not a major problem," said Medford Police Chief Eric Mellgren. "But we only need one problem."

Just hours after completing the last training session on cougars, police were faced with that possibility.

Two Medford residents reported they saw a cougar in the area of Black Oak Drive and Acorn Way around 5:30 p.m. Sept. 14. Police responded but found only cougar tracks in some gravel and hairs on a backyard gate near the Rogue Valley Country Club golf course, where police believed the cougar was headed. The country club warned golfers, but no one saw the animal. Medford police Sgt. Chad Teresi said there was no mistaking that it was a cougar.

The cat was described as 3 feet tall at the shoulder and as long as two car doors. One resident saw the cougar in his back yard before it ran down his driveway and crossed White Oak Drive. A woman said she saw it streak in front of her car as she was driving down Acorn. A cougar was reportedly seen in the same area at 10:50 p.m. Tuesday.

Just seeing a cougar in town doesn't warrant an ODFW investigation, Thiebes said. Restrictions under Measure 18 also apply to ODFW and limit what the agency can do when the public complains of cougars hanging around homes. Cougar attacks on people are about the only circumstances that would mobilize wildlife biologists, Vargas said.

Besides Medford police, Jackson County Sheriff's Department supervisors also completed a training course with ODFW to respond to cougar complaints. Unlike police, sheriff's deputies generally don't respond to sightings unless there are human or pet safety and damage concerns, said Sheriff Bob Kennedy.

In the recent training, Medford police officers learned that what looks like a grisly homicide could be caused by a cougar. The training revisited the cases of two California women who were killed by cougars.

A video showed police how the cats bury their prey in a mound of leaves, dirt and other forest debris. Autopsy photos of the two women, a jogger and a hiker, exposed the gory reality of what a cougar attack can do to the human form. Officers also learned to identify cougar tracks.

"We need to just be prepared," Thiebes said. "It's bound to happen in Oregon."

North America's highest population density of cougars - the most cats per square mile - is in the Tiller area of Douglas County, a recent ODFW study concluded.

Because of the risk of spreading disease and concerns about the animals' territories, ODFW doesn't relocate cougars. If they become a problem in a town, the cats are euthanized, Thiebes said.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.


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How not to meet one, and what to do if...

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife offers the following suggestions to prevent an attack if confronted by a cougar:

- Do not hike alone. Go in groups, with adults supervising children.

- Do not approach a cougar. Most cougars will try to avoid a confrontation. Give them a way to escape.

- Do not run from a cougar. Running may stimulate the cougar's instinct to chase. Stand and face the animal. Make eye contact. If you have small children with you, pick them up so they don't panic and run. Try to pick them up without bending over or turning away from the cougar.

- Do all you can to appear larger. Raise your arms, open your jacket, throw stones or whatever you can without crouching or turning your back. Wave your arms slowly and speak in a loud, firm voice.

- Fight back if attacked. Because a cougar tries to bite the head or neck, try to remain standing and face the attacking animal. Use rocks, sticks, jackets, garden tools, camping gear and your hands to fend off the attack.

To minimize contact with cougars, ODFW provides tips for maintaining the area around your home:

- Do not feed wildlife. By feeding deer, raccoons or other wildlife in your yard, you may inadvertently attract cougars looking for prey.

- Consider your landscaping. Be aware that planting trees and shrubs to attract deer may also attract cougars. Make it difficult for cougars to approach your yard unseen by removing dense or low-lying vegetation, especially around walkways and children's play areas.

- Install outdoor lighting. Keep the perimeter of your house well lighted at night.

- Keep pets secure. Bring pets inside or keep them in a kennel with a secure top. Don't feed pets outside as this can attract cougars and their prey.
 

LAgunman2K

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i remember watching an old episode of the crocodile hunter tv show, and they were showing pics of his wife before they met. one pic showed her campaigning to "Stop the Cougar Hunt" in oregon.

of course as a typical liberal they took a young docile cougar to a school to show the kids how cute and cuddly these critters are and that they shouldnt be hunted.

i wonder how she will feel if one of those kids gets killed by a cougar that she was trying to protect.
 

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