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Time to cull the herd?

Years of allowing deer to roam through town appear to have brought the inevitable consequence: hungry predators.

Cougars have always been occasional visitors, often in Lithia Park or well above the boulevard, but one was spotted in the Plaza downtown last Thursday. Sightings have also been reported near the Safeway store on Siskiyou Boulevard and by the downtown fire station.

One encounter with two animals near the Hannon Library on the Southern Oregon University campus Sunday night led police to fire a rifle shot at one of them. The shot missed; the cougar left.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but state wildlife guidelines say cougars feeding on deer at night is not considered a threat to human safety. Until Sunday’s incident at SOU, all the sightings had been late at night or very early in the morning. The Plaza sighting was about 4 a.m. Another happened about 6:30 a.m. Monday near SOU. For now, authorities say there is no cause for alarm, but be aware of your surroundings.

Police are prepared to shoot cougars, but only when they are assured that an errant shot will not endanger anyone, and every shot must be authorized by Chief Tighe O’Meara, who emphasized there is no general authorization to shoot. Guns will be used only when cougars are encountered in town during daylight hours, because that is considered a threat to public safety.

The situation bears watching, but if cougar encounters continue, it might be time to revisit hunting urban deer to reduce the herd.

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