A cougar sighting was called in to the Ashland Police Department at 1:30 in the morning Monday. It was seen around Iowa and Idaho streets, just a quarter of a mile above the boulevard, but no harm was done.
The sighting follows posting of a video of a formidable feline, aka mountain lion, catamount or puma, on March 25 less than a quarter-mile to the west, in another heavily populated residential neighborhood a couple blocks off East Main Street.
It (or they) is likely a juvenile male, as they are regularly displaced downward from ideal habitat in the Ashland watershed by mature males, says Steve Niemela, district wildlife biologist of Rogue Watershed District, Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.
Ashland Police quickly posted on their Facebook, “Cougar sighting! A cougar was spotted in the area of Iowa and Idaho streets last night. Take appropriate precautions with Fido the dog and Mittens the cat!”
The city in the past week has creating smoke from controlled burns in the upper watershed, causing a post by Dorilee Eastman on the Tidings Facebook: “Could it be perhaps that these controlled burns are scaring the animals up there and driving them down into town? They probably don’t know the difference between a ‘real forest fire’ and a ‘controlled burn.’ So maybe we should re-think some of this, get out of their forest and leave Mother Nature the hell alone before our small children and pets start disappearing.”
However, Niemela says “wildfire and controlled fire will move animals around but not in this regard and not any distance. I very much doubt that had anything to do with it. Controlled burns do a lot of ecological good and change the way fire might behave. There is some smoke, but lots of benefits.”
Cougar sightings have increased in the last 10 years, as an extension of their recovery taking hold in the 1990s after being “almost completely eradicated” from this region, he adds.
Southern Oregon, mainly Jackson, Josephine and interior Douglas Counties, have the highest density cougar population in Oregon, he notes.
With each sighting, ODFW issues the caution that it’s not to be dismissed, and “I wouldn’t say there’s nothing to worry about. They are large predators and have killed people in other states, not Oregon. If we want to keep this record going, we need to keep them afraid of people and run them off. If they attack a pet or show aggressive behavior or are seen multiple times in a day, call us.”
Police did not have a record of who called in the sighting, said Deputy Chief Warren Hensman.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.