Thursday, February 19, 2009

Idaho: Cougar sightings prompt response from officials

Thursday, February 19, 2009 11:13 AM PST

PAYETTE — An Idaho Fish and Game officer has been to the Payette area twice in the past two days after the Payette Police Department received reports of two cougar sightings and a one regarding big cat tracks.

PPD Capt. Dave Platt said the first report was received Tuesday when somebody found cougar tracks in the 1300 block of South 11th Street, behind May Trucking, toward the river. Idaho Fish and Game responded then, but the tracks had already melted. Tuesday afternoon, a woman living on South Park Street reported being woken up by her dogs barking the night before and actually seeing the cougar running back toward the river.

The third sighting, Platt said, was reported Wednesday from a man who said he saw the big cat Tuesday night while he was driving on U.S. Highway 95 near the twin bridges. Platt said an Idaho Fish and Game officer returned to Payette Wednesday afternoon to try and track the cat, but did not find the animal. He said the officer didn’t believe the cougar was a great threat, however.

“They are not immediately concerned because of the amount of wildlife, deer, that is along the river,” Platt said. “If there was a lack of a food source there along the river, then they would be more worried about it going and taking small pets.”

Indeed, Idaho Fish and Game Southwest Regional Wildlife Manager Jon Rachael, said, from the reports, the cougar appears to be displaying a fairly typical pattern of behavior.

“Multiple days close to a town, it doesn’t necessarily equate to a threat to humans or livestock,” he said. “If the pattern continues, obviously our interest is going to increase as well.”

Currently, however, the night sightings of the cougar heading toward the river, where its food sources would be, is what Fish and Game officials like to hear because it is not abnormal, Rachael said.

If the sightings were in daylight and the creature, typically a shy and elusive animal, was not exhibiting any fear toward humans, the concern would be greater.

Because Payette is in the river corridor, cougar sightings should not necessarily be considered atypical, and people should be aware there are cougars present.

“I would wager they are there all the time, way more often than people realize,” Rachael said.

Should people encounter the cat, Rachael advises they be assertive by making lots of noise and maintaining eye contact. They should not run away or make any sudden movements. He also said, cougar hunting season is open to hunters until March 31, but advises city ordinances about firing weapons and going onto private land apply.

Platt said, unless the cougar is threatening somebody’s life, people should not try to shoot the cougar.

“Obviously we don’t want people shooting in populated areas,” he said, adding the bullet would likely go through the cougar and could hit something or someone else. People who see the cougar should call 9-1-1 and report the sighting so Idaho Fish and Game can be contacted.

For daylight sightings, people can call the regional office at (208) 334-2148.


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