I walk my dog each night, between eleven and midnight, along the alley that’s about 200 feet above the boulevard, and runs from the library to Morton Street.
On Saturday, Oct. 20, around 8 p.m., a cougar, weighing maybe 180 pounds, walked by my house in the alley. When car lights came up behind the cat, it veered left between houses towards the boulevard.
Cougars are stealth animals; if you see one, there are more. And why the alley? The alleys are not well lighted; there’s no traffic at night, and cougars can stalk their prey because, at night, many deer use this alley, as well as the median strip of the boulevard (taking their chances with cars rather than cats).
I came to Ashland in 1974 and there were no deer in town. Now there are hundreds. And where there are deer, there are big cats. And just as the deer, over time, have become unconcerned with humans, the cats are here now and will soon take us for granted.
I keep hearing that attacks by cougars are few, but the proximity they now share with our town, a town that does nothing to rid us of the deer population, now has to deal with big cats roaming at night. Absurdly, the concerns I hear are for the deer and the cats. One resident, when hearing that the cat headed in the direction of the boulevard, was concerned it might get hit by a car. That’s what we’re up against: a full-grown cougar in the alleys at night and we worry for its safety.
Almost three decades ago, Oregonians passed a measure barring the hunting of cougars with dogs, which caused the cat population to explode. Considering that cougars are territorial, with each dominant male commanding a large area, young cougars have to find their own territory — such as downtown Ashland.
Some say we have the problem because we built into the deer and cougar interface. That’s not the main reason for the problem — rather, we welcome the deer to share our town. Just outside of town, up on the Loop Road, there is nothing between there and the coast. The deer are in town because it’s an easy life for them — eating from gardens and the median strip while menacing Ashlanders walking their dogs.
It is foolish beyond measure to maintain a large deer population in town in an area where there are cougars. 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. And it’s unlikely that some horror will transpire in the alleys at night? You gotta be joking.
When someone is maimed or killed by a cougar one night, that liability will belong to the City Council and the mayor. Cougars are a clear and present danger, and a problem that needs remedied by the removal of their principal source of food — the deer.
Is that going to happen? More likely the city hires someone to maintain raw hamburger sites to keep the cats away from our kids. If nothing is done (which is most likely), and you hear five shots one night in the alley, rest easy, it’s just Erik fighting his way over to Safeway for some of those Newman dark chocolate peanut butter cups before they close.
Erik Wallbank lives in Ashland.