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No reason to overreact to cougar sightings

Last week, the city of Hillsboro responded to a report that a cougar was sighted near the Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve by closing the trails at the popular park. At around 8:30 a.m. June 26, a phone call came in from a homeowner near the north side of the Jackson Bottom area. The woman who called said she saw a cougar in a tree. She reported that the animal did not display any aggressive behavior, and it soon moved away of its own accord.

Thursday’s report of a cougar sighting followed an earlier call on Monday, June 23, in which a trail user at Jackson Bottom reported seeing a cougar on the eastern side of the preserve. City staff opted to close the trail after that reported sighting as well.

The Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve is a natural area that provides suitable habitat for a diversity of species. It is a wildlife corridor which, of course, attracts wild animals. Indeed, that is a large part of the appeal of the Jackson Bottom acreage; and, no doubt, viewing wildlife is one of the primary reasons people like to go for hikes there.

So it seems backwards to close trails when a magnificent — albeit large — animal is spotted there. We certainly agree with letting those visiting the park know when a cougar has been spotted, which is standard procedure at many state and federal parks. And if a group of elementary school kids were visiting, it would make sense to close the trail to be extra cautious with youngsters.

Other than that, it’s going pretty far overboard to close the trails. If adults want to head out there — and indeed many people would be excited about the chance to perhaps see a cougar in the wild — they should not be stopped from doing so.

Sure, a cougar can be dangerous, but let’s keep some perspective here. There is no need for panic. According to officials with the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife, no one has ever been killed by a cougar in the wild in Oregon.

That’s certainly not the story with dogs, however. According to Dogsbite.org, a research organization based in Austin, Texas, a total of 32 people were killed by dogs in the United States in 2013, including a 5-year-old boy in Oregon. Indeed, statistics show dogs are a far greater threat to humans than cougars have ever been. Should we close trails when dogs are spotted running loose?

In the wake of the reported cougar sightings at Jackson Bottom, Hillsboro officials called in the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife for assistance. But the ODFW’s policy with cougars is not reassuring, because “repeated sightings of the animal (cougar) during the day near a permanent structure ... used by humans” will spark an extreme response from state officials.

Here is a section of the wording of the ODFW’s “Cougar Incident Response Guidelines” adopted by the agency in 2006: “Where cougar(s) are causing damage, being a public nuisance, or posing a public health risk and ODFW personnel or its agents are called to respond, the animal will be humanely euthanized,” read an excerpt. “Under no circumstances will consideration be given to relocation of cougars.”

We hope the city is not going to trigger the slaying of a cougar simply because it has been seen a few times. The whole idea of the wetlands property is to create a natural area and build wildlife habitat, so calling in the ODFW when a species that is native to Oregon shows up is not only an overreaction, but a counterproductive one.

We don’t believe the ODFW needs to race to the scene every time a bear or cougar is spotted in Washington County. Post an advisory and have an employee or volunteer advise people entering the area — whether it be Hagg Lake or Jackson Bottom or anywhere else in Washington County — about a sighting so they can be alert. But other than that, let’s just let it be.



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