Since a rash of cougar sightings in downtown Ashland in recent days were all at night, it doesn't constitute a public safety issue for now, authorities say.
A cougar was spotted near the Safeway store on Siskiyou Boulevard and by the downtown fire station and Ashland Plaza in recent days. The Plaza sighting was around 4 a.m. Thursday.
A cougar with two cubs was also spotted near the library earlier this week. It is unknown if it is the same animal.
According to Steve Niemela, district wildlife biologist with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the reported sightings have all been at night, which is within the realm of public safety according to Oregon standards.
“All of the calls we’ve received here at the agency, except for one exception, have all been cougars feeding on deer at night and, under Oregon state law, that’s not considered a threat to human safety,” Niemela said. “We need to have multiple sightings during daylight hours for it to cross that legal threshold of ‘this is now considered a threat to human safety’’”
Ashland Police have asked the community to call 541-770-4784 if they see a cougar in town so they can keep track of the animal (or animals). Niemela said ODFW is working very closely with the Ashland Police Department to monitor the situation.
Police Chief O’Meara said there’s no cause for concern and that residents should go about their normal routine. He recommends people be alert to their surroundings.
“People can go about their business, but they should have general awareness of what’s going on around them,” O’Meara said. “That’s true always, but when we’re dealing with cougars potentially lurking around we need to be particularly aware. Cougars are more afraid of us than we are of them, usually.”
There’s been about a half-dozen reports since Saturday, mostly around the downtown area, O’Meara said.
It’s more common for cougars to pop up in the hills “above the boulevard” and above North Main Street than it is in the downtown area, O’Meara said.
“It’s a little unusual, but it’s not unheard of,” O’Meara said.
If sightings occur in the day or cougars are aggressive, then it would be reason for concern and ODFW should be contacted right away at 541-826-8774, Niemela said.
Niemela said deer in Ashland contributes to cougar sightings.
“Having an abundance of deer, which is the cougar’s primary food source, in an urban setting certainly does create an environment for predators to come into town,” Niemela said. “If there weren’t deer in town, there wouldn’t be cougars.”
Niemela said that, aside from the city providing a safe haven for deer, the number of predators have increased over the years and habitat has deteriorated due to wildfire and other environmental factors driving them to new territory. Additionally, the type of tools allowed for controlling deer population is very limited in an urban environment.
“There’s no silver bullet to fix it tomorrow, it’s been a long-term problem and it’s probably going to be an issue for a while,” Niemela said.
“Ashland’s in an area where, for many years now, we’ve gotten intermittent calls about cougars in town,” he added. “It’s an area where people just need to be educated about cougars.”
If a cougar is spotted, Niemela suggests you:
• Make yourself big and loud;
• Look it in the eyes;
• Give the animal space to leave;
• Back away slowly;
• Never run or turn your back;
• Always face it;
• Keep pets and children close; and
• Pick up small children and put them on your shoulders.
For more information from ODFW on living in cougar country, go to bit.ly/2PQQBtk.
Ashland resident Eric Wallbank has lived in town for 44 years and said there used to not be a cougar problem or a deer problem. He saw a cougar in the alley while walking his dog Saturday night around 8 p.m.
“I wish the city would remove the deer,” Wallbank said. “Some people say it’s our fault we’ve moved into their interface, which is partially true. What’s even more true is all the deer have come into town and been more or less welcomed to stay and that’s the cat’s main source of food.”
In a letter to the editor, Wallbank wrote “To the cats, Ashland is now a buffet where that same population who support sharing the town with deer will, by default, now share it with the big cats.”