Oregon's lush Willamette Valley is shown on wildlife maps as having the lowest density of mountain lions in the State. However, it is also the area with by far the greatest density of potential victims, especially the lion's favorite human potential prey, children under about 10 yrs. old. See the The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) webpages*---(Living with Wildlife pdfs)
A good example of the conflict all over the Willamette Valley is the Table Rock area in general-- it is a known lion hotspot, located just 18 air miles from the inhabited eastern edge of the Willamette Valley. Within the vicinity are small cities such as Silverton, Estacada, Colton and Molalla.... Purely from an examination of geography and human habitation, one would suspect that these cities are within easy range of cougars going about their normal hunting pursuits, especially male cougars, which often have home ranges of 100-150 square miles. The western Oregon forests in fact push right up against both cities. ODFW notes, "...the most productive cougar habitat in western Oregon is the Douglas fir/trailing blackberry type, with an old growth forest component." Such habitat is plentiful around most of the lowland Willamette Valley. So overall it is a bad combination: rapidly expanding populations of Oregon cougars and rapidly expanding human populations, one pushing out into the rural fringes for new housing and the other pushing inward in search of good eating! (*see page bottom for details on this exciting picture).
Some who have studied the problem believe there is a related third component leading to the cougar problem..... Deer, all agree, are the preferred and natural food source of the average cougar. Some observers of wildlife note an increased trend, in both Oregon and California, of "tame" deer more and more in residence in parks, farmers' fields and orchards, and even in suburban housing developments. Many cite the easy availability of year-round food as the main reason for the deers' liking for people. But others more alarmingly wonder if SAFETY is a primary motivator for the deer-- as cougar populations continue to increase to record numbers, the deer perhaps are learning that they are safer close to man and his habitations. Of course, this trend draws cougars ever-closer to man, and not just closer to outdoorsmen and hunters, but to everyday families in their backyards and jogging trails.
So is it any wonder that within just the past three years we have several alarming reports from local schools of lions prowling around school yards in broad daylight? (One at Ruraldell Elementary near Molalla, and one additional sighting at a schoolyard within Molalla itself, see local Molalla paper, dates =? And then two more in Sept/October 2004).... Remember, to a cougar's ears, the happy din of children at play sounds very much like a flock of sheep bahing away, just dumb, tasty animals announcing their whereabouts. Cougars are cats, and curious like cats--- even if hunger and an outright plan of hunting is not involved in the cat's behavior, do we want large predators like mountain lions hanging around our schools?
So, here's what we hope to avoid in Oregon: the killing of a child on his own schoolyard in British Columbia. Details of that terrible killing are found at bottom of page:
In March of 2004, the author of this page found what were very likely cougar prints beside a farmer's pond about one mile from the site of a reputed 2003 cougar sheep killing (see below).
Local residents reported to me that they believed a cougar had killed a sheep just two miles south of Ruraldell School in 2003, near South Dryland Road.
September, 2004, the Molalla paper carried a front page story about a cougar which had injured at least one pet, and frightened many domestic animals, eventually being shot at at night by a resident checking out why his horses were so restless one night. It is not known if a government hunter was called in, but the paper expressed concern since the incident was very close to a rural elementary school.
October 27, 2004, the Albany newspaper "The Democrat Herald" ran a story relating that the Prinicipal at the Sweethome High School in Sweethome had sent a letter home to parents warning them about cougar dangers after a child sighted one nearby. Basically, the message was to avoid wooded areas on the walk to/from school.
A friend who has a relative who is one of the "hired hands" for ODFW (has hounds, hunts/kills cougars on contract with ODFW) reminded me of a recent cougar incident within the city boundaries of a town even less rural than Molalla. This was just a few years ago, when a cougar suddenly appeared on and around the grounds of the Willamette Valley Country Club, right within the city limits of Canby. It hung around for several days and was spotted by many folks. Eventually it left the area, probably returning to the mountains via following the forested corridor of the Molalla River back upstream.
West Eugene: recently, a reader reported to me that her aunt (in about 1998) had been alarmed to discover a cougar on her property, within the city limits. The cougar was in her garage-- apparently getting into a bag of cat food! Was it hungry, or merely curious? The Eugene-Springfield area is one of Oregon's 3 or 4 largest metropolitan areas.
The north Oregon Coast has been showing up with numerous cougar reports, including an incident in late spring 2005 where a 9 year old boy was surprised by a mountain lion in his own yard and slightly injured by its teeth as it apparently tried to run away. The incident merited a long and well researched article in the newspaper "The Daily Astorian," dated 6/21/2005. The family of the boy now sponsor an interesting cougar website, which includes a link to this newspaper article. (click here)
The cougar-hardened hiker carries a metal-frame back pack with upper extension bar, a rigid, kevlar-reinforced neck brace, a stout rock climber's hard hat with big eyes painted on the back, a deafening whistle, mega-sized pepper spray, and a stout club. On his belt, he wears a serious knife, knowing that in close his best hope is to slash the cougar's juglar vein. His hands are protected by Police kevlar-reinforced gloves.....As he realizes that the biggest danger from cougars is their habit of sneak-attacking from the rear, he has therefore equipped himself with bionic ears, such as the "Super Ears" unit, which sports headphones and clips into his breast pocket-- now he can hear the stealthy crunch of padded cat paws from 100 yards! On his feet, despite the weight, he disdains the modern lightweight nylon hiking shoes and prefers steel-toed boots, perhaps the "tactical" models preferred by Police and SWAT..... He never hikes alone, never hikes at night, and if he brings a dog, it is a big, mean brute, preferrably two, so that as the lion pins and kills the first one, the second one can do some significant damage so the human can gather his wits to get away, use pepper spray, or bash the lion's head in.
Alternative Commando outfits: Police riot gear...or.... Football player or ice hockey goal keeper, especially the shoulder pads and full helmet (giving the wearer a good chance of surviving the cougar's typical initial attack, which is from behind, aimed at the victim's head and neck, with the goal of snapping back the head and breaking the spinal column-- that's where a kevlar-reinforced neck brace is in order). Of course, if the cougar is already on top of you, you'll need to then use your knife and steel-toed boots.
School Yard Killing. May, 1992. Jeremy Williams, 7, of Kyuquot, British Columbia, was mauled to death by a yearling female cougar as he played on the edge of the school yard. Jeremy, a Kyuquot Indian boy, was attacked as he sat on the grass in the elementary school playground. The cougar rushed and attacked the freckled, red-haired youngster. The boy's father and a dozen youngsters witnessed the attack. Kevin Williams, Jeremy's father and a teacher at the school, hurried to the scene and watched helplessly while children screamed in panic. The school's janitor shot and killed the 60-pound lion (my note: this is a rather small cougar)... Richard Leo, a Kyuquot Indian chief, said angry parents accused the school board of ignoring the danger of wild animals. (Associated Press, 1992) (Abundant Wildlife Society Of North America; Mountain Lion Fact Sheet by T. R. Mader, Research Director) (Mountain Lions and California State Parks; 01/19/94) (British Columbia Newspaper Awards)
Lion lurking near a School. May, 1994.... 7-year-old Kyle Musselman was attacked by a cougar while on his way to school just 50 yards downhill from his home in a new subdivision of Gold River, British Columbia. His father was called to his aid by his brother. John Musselman thought the boy was dead, but charged the cat anyway. It dropped him facedown and ran. Source: (Dean Miller and Jo Deurbrouck, authors of Cat Attacks)
Lion seen near school in Bend, Oregon, 2005. This was over a period of weeks or months in early 2005. School officials at Einsworth Elementary finally became concerned enough that they sent home letters to parents on April 4th, urging parents not to allow their children to walk wooded trails to school, especially not alone. Finally the lion was apprehended, and I assume killed by officials. It may have been one of two lions widely reported around Bend over a two-three year period.
* Picture Note: the cougar face shown at page top was a 110 pound male cougar in a tree just blocks from an elementary school in Palo Alto, California on May 17, 2004.... Moments later, it was killed by city Police..Note: Palo Alto is a large city in California.....Credit: the picture was originally taken by an unnamed news cameraman for KPIX-TV.