More glimpses of cougars may not mean more threat

Published on Thu, Aug 8, 2002 by Meg Olson

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More glimpses of cougars may not mean more threat

By Meg Olson

There may have been a cougar along the banks of Terrell Creek for a while, but lately the cat seems to be popping up more often, in BP Cherry Point security reports, in neighborhood chats and over coffee at the Custer Country Store.

“Sure people are talking about it,” said Betty Creech who lives at the intersection of Blaine and Bay roads. “There are too many people around for us to have a cougar running around.” Creech said she heard from a neighbor that BP security guards had seen the cat in their driveway.

“That’s getting pretty close to home,” she said. She added her husband, a regular at the Custer Country Store for morning coffee, had heard another resident describe seeing a cougar on Anderson Road.

“A cougar has been seen around the Jackson road area several times, very infrequently for the last five years,” said BP Cherry Point Refinery representative Mike Abendhoff after reviewing the company’s security reports. “This year it’s been three times already.” He said security guards patrol the refinery but also the undeveloped BP land on the north side of Grandview Road between Blaine and Jackson roads. There was a report of the cougar in March and two last month, on July 15 and 16. Abendhoff said security guards were never close enough to estimate age, sex, or general health of the animal.

State department of fish and wildlife enforcement officer Troy McCormack said he hadn’t received any cougar complaints or sightings from the area this year, but they had in previous. “I’m not surprised there would be sightings there,” he said. “There’s a lot of open space and a lot of deer in that area.”

McCormack said wildlife wasn’t limited to wilderness areas. “We get cougar sightings all over the county,” he said. “A lot of them are actually in and around the city of Bellingham,” adding more people around meant more chance of spotting the very stealthy and secretive animals. Juvenile animals, who are usually turned out of the more wild range of their parents at this time of year, often establish their range, which can cover up to 100 square miles, closer to more developed areas.

The department documents sighting and monitors the number of sightings in an area and their pattern. Incidents of livestock or pet predation are also investigated, but they aren’t common, McCormack said. “A lot of times people see the big tracks and think it’s a cougar but we investigate and find out it’s not.” He said cougars are often blamed but the attacker often turns out to be domestic dogs and the cat comes in to investigate after a pet or livestock is dead, such as was the case with a dog found killed outside Ferndale last year. McCormack said there has never been a cougar attack on a human in the county.

McCormack said the public shouldn’t be alarmed to have cougars as neighbors, just watchful. “These cats are here, always,” he said. “They need to have some of the space and you can’t just draw a line and put them on one side of it. I’m aware there is a cat there and people should just be prepared in case of an encounter.” McCormack said if the cat hasn’t seen you, just back out of the area. If the animal has, you need to make it very clear you are a big human and not something to eat.

“Generally they don’t want anything to do with humans,” he said. “Make that cat know you’re a person, yell, keep eye contact, and back out of the area. Try and make yourself look big by opening a jacket or getting up on a stump.” Not recommended are screeching or running, which could trigger a prey response.

McCormack said a somewhat different approach was recommended for bears, another wild animal not unknown in local neighborhoods. “We had a bear in Blaine two months ago,” he said. For bears, you aren’t likely to be perceived as a meal, but as a threat. “Again, don’t run and back out of the area, but don’t make eye contact and talk to them, don’t scream.” McCormack suggested looking for more information about what to do if you meet a wild animal at www.wa.gov/wdfw.

If a cougar, or a bear, becomes a possible threat to humans, or a nuisance, there are legal avenues to get rid of the animals. Public affairs specialist Doug Williams said the state fish and wildlife commission had, at their August 2 meeting, approved a public safety cougar removal program under which a limited number of permits each year would be issued to hunters with specially trained dogs to kill potential nuisance cougars.

“We’ve got between 3,400 and 4,000 cougars in the state,” he said. “This year we will issue approximately 70 permits.” The number of permits each year is proportional to the number of complaints about cougars received, he said, which illustrates that most cougars are not a problem. “That’s why there aren’t a thousand of these permits,” he said. “We only want to remove animals that are a problem.”

To report an incident or a citing to the department call 800/477-6224 or the Washington State Patrol dispatch center at 360/676-2076. McCormack adds that rapid reporting helps investigators better monitor an animal. “Evidence of a cat’s presence will disappear pretty quickly,” he said. .

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