What to do if you encounter a cougar

• Cougars often will retreat if given the opportunity. Leave the animal a way to escape.

• Stay calm and stand your ground.

• Maintain direct eye contact.

• Pick up children, but do so without bending down or turning your back on the cougar.

• Raise your voice and speak firmly.

• Back away slowly.

• Do not run. Running triggers a chase response in cougars, which could lead to an attack.

• If the cougar seems aggressive, raise your arms or pull a jacket over your head to make yourself look larger. Clap your hands.

• It is unusual, but if a cougar attacks you, fight back with rocks, sticks, tools or any items available.

Source: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Around the same time a cougar attacked cyclists in Western Washington, cougars were spotted in several locations in Central Oregon, prompting warnings from local and federal agencies.

On Saturday, the Sunriver Police Department notified residents about a cougar sighting near Maury Mountain Lane, by the community’s northeastern edge. Separately, the Bureau of Land Management put out a statement about several cougar sightings along the Lower Deschutes River south of Maupin.

In Sunriver, the two sightings — one a firsthand sighting and another a thirdhand account of a cougar in the area — prompted the police department to search for the predator, according to interim police chief Scott Hayes. The search was unsuccessful, though Hayes said the department may continue searching if more reports come in.

The Sunriver sightings were reported the same day a cougar attacked cyclists in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle, killing one and injuring another. It was the first time a cougar had killed someone in Washington in 94 years, according to The Associated Press.

“Obviously, that deal that occurred in Washington has everyone a little on edge,” Hayes said.

Oregon has roughly three times the number of cougars as its neighbor to the north. While there is no record of a wild cougar killing a human in Oregon, population growth in Oregon and across the West has brought more humans into contact with the big cats in recent years, and the animals sometimes wander into cities.

In January, a resident of northeast Bend interrupted a cougar trying to kill a deer near Pilot Butte Cemetery. In 2015, Bend Police killed a cougar that was spotted just yards from the trail up Pilot Butte. In 2010, a cougar killed two pet pygmy goats in La Pine.

Cougars, the largest species of cat found in Oregon, once roamed all over the state’s forests. However, cougars weren’t protected in Oregon through much of the 20th century, and unregulated hunts and bounties on the mountain lions drove their numbers down through the late 1960s, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s cougar management plan, which guides management of the species in Oregon. By the end of the decade, fewer than 200 cougars remained in the state, according to Michelle Dennehy, wildlife communications coordinator for ODFW.

In the late 1960s, Dennehy said, cougars were reclassified as a game animal, which limited how they could be hunted. She said bounties on the animal were also prohibited.

Cougar populations have recovered over the past 50 years, and Dennehy said more than 6,000 cougars live in Oregon, with the densest populations in the Blue Mountains and the Cascades. ODFW breaks the state into six zones when classifying cougar populations. Zone C, which includes Bend and spans about 11,000 square miles across the southeastern edge of the Oregon Cascades, contained 1,000 cougars as of a 2016 ODFW estimate.

Dennehy said the cats rely on deer and elk for food and tend to gravitate toward areas of the forest that have healthy populations of deer, elk and other ungulates. Of the territory in Central Oregon identified as being suitable for cougars, the majority is to the south and east of Bend.

ODFW’s management plan, which was last updated in 2017, allows hunters to kill cougars. ODFW can establish quotas for cougars — known as cougar target areas — in regions where they’ve killed livestock, threatened humans, or driven deer and elk populations below management objectives. Dennehy said the agency’s goal is to reduce conflict between cougars and humans where possible.

In Sunriver, Hayes said, cougar sightings are not terribly uncommon, with a couple being reported nearly every summer. He said cougars can harm pets and other animals left outside and asked residents to pay attention to their surroundings. If residents see a cougar, they should call the Sunriver Police Department at 541-593-1014.

“We’re asking people to be aware,” Hayes said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7818, shamway@bendbulletin.com