Recent cougar activity in Bend

May 15: A deer killed within a subdivision on the east rim of the Deschutes River canyon was confirmed to be a cougar kill by state wildlife investigators.

May 6: A cougar was seen near a canal by Fred Meyer in Bend in the early morning hours.

April 27: A cougar was seen bedded down in some bushes at the end of Agate Road near the lava flow in Deschutes River Woods.

April 26: A cougar attacked a small dog at a home in the 4600 block of SW Elkhorn Ave. in Redmond. A temporary lockout was initiated at nearby Ridgeview High School.

April 22: An adult cougar was seen twice using the Deschutes River canyon area within Bend city limits. It was sighted in the morning and again on a trail camera about 8:30 p.m.

Feb. 4-5: Cougar tracks were located along the canyon rim adjacent to River Canyon Estates as well as within the backyard of a residence in that area. On Feb. 9, state wildlife officials and Bend police tracked a 135-pound cougar into the Deschutes River Woods area and killed it at approximately 8:30 a.m.

The Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife is working with the Bend Police Department to locate and euthanize an adult cougar deemed a threat to public safety.

Cougar activity has been reported five times near homes and businesses in southwest Bend since February. In the last two weeks, a cougar was seen along a canal near Fred Meyer in Bend and a deer kill reported on the east rim of the Deschutes River canyon was also considered the work of a cougar, the agency said in a news release. Such sightings are increasingly worrisome for the public after a hiker was mauled to death by a cougar while hiking in the Mt. Hood National Forest in September.

“We hoped (the cougar) would leave the area by itself, but it hasn’t moved on. There have been repeated sightings in daytime and a deer kill, so it was decided to find this cougar and kill it,” said Michelle Dennehy, a spokeswoman for ODFW.

Signs of a cougar in the same part of Bend have been reported at least five times since February. The recent sightings indicate that the current inhabitant has “set up shop” in the Deschutes River canyon, said Mike Harrington, an ODFW biologist and district manager for the Deschutes watershed.

“It is staying here, hunting here and comfortable around humans,” said Harrington, an 11-year veteran of the ODFW.

“The longer it stays, the more comfortable it gets, the higher the probability it will have a dangerous encounter with humans,” he added. Because cougars are nocturnal, daytime sightings are abnormal and indicate that this cougar may be very hungry, Harrington said.

The ODFW has posted warning signs in the Deschutes River canyon and nearby neighborhoods. Residents and hikers in the canyon area are advised to take precautions, according to the ODFW website. Advice includes never turning your back during a cougar encounter and not running away. Running will encourage the cougar to chase.

Harrington dismissed reports that cougars only attack in self-defense. “It’s usually a predatory attack,” he said. “Attacks are rare, but its not something we want to take a chance with.”

Bend police officers have been authorized to shoot the animal and box traps may also be used, Dennehy said. Killing the animal quickly has been deemed more humane than tranquilizing and shipping it to a zoo because the animal will not be used to enclosed spaces, she said.

Moving a captured cougar to a wilderness area is also not appropriate, she added, because this would likely place the animal in the territory of another cougar, and the animals could kill each other. Because the cougar is used to urban areas, it may simply wander back toward the city. Dennehy said cougar kittens, if found with a killed mother, are sent to a zoo.

After a cougar is killed, it is measured, weighed and its gender recorded for population modeling.

Bend has experienced an increasing number of cougar sightings in recent years, particularly as the city grows and the human population pushes further into wilderness areas.

In February, Bend police tracked and killed a 135-pound male cougar in Deschutes River Woods. Repeated sightings were reported in backyards and near homes. A cougar was spotted south of Redmond last month, causing a temporary closure of Ridgeview High School.

In 2015, Bend police shot and killed a cougar on Pilot Butte.

Oregon is home to more than 6,000 cougars, according to the ODFW website, a significant jump from the late 1960s, when the cougar population fell to around 200 individual animals.

The September attack at Mount Hood was Oregon’s first fatal wild cougar attack. Wildlife officials later tracked and killed a 65-pound cougar they believe mauled the 55-year-old Gresham hiker.

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

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