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Cougar sightings spook city officials

Popular trails at Jackson Bottom preserve closed after reports


After three alleged sightings in one week, a cougar still has not been found at Jackson Bottom Wetlands Preserve in Hillsboro.

That’s a good thing for the cougar, because otherwise the Oregon State Police officers who were escorting the search team would have shot the animal dead even without it showing any sign of aggressive behavior.

“Protocol says that if a cougar is seen multiple times in a commercial or residential area, it is a public safety issue and it must be put down,” said Rick Swart, the regional spokesman for the Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife (ODFW).

Two weeks ago, a black bear was captured in North Portland and released back into the wild after only one sighting.

“That was the first time it [the bear] had been seen there,” said Swart. “It wasn’t habituated, so it was taken back to the woods.”

However, the Jackson Bottom Wetlands cougar has allegedly been seen one time Monday, June 23, on the east side of the preserve; a second time Thursday morning, June 26, on the north side of the preserve; and a third time later on June 26 on a farm across the street from the preserve.

Swart said routine sightings such as these are an indication of danger.

“If you see an animal around developed areas frequently, it means the animal is losing fear of humans. If you run into that animal on the trail, instead of running it might sit there, growl at you, and defend what it thinks is its territory,” he explained.

One Washington County resident who lives near Gaston had a different story about run-ins with cougars.

“I’ve seen cougars many times out in the country,” said the woman, who wanted to remain anonymous. “They’re beautiful. They’ve sat 10 feet away from me on my driveway, staring right at me with their green eyes. They won’t attack you as long as you don’t do anything sudden or try to get in their face with a camera.”

To their credit, the carnivorous predators haven’t given Oregonians much trouble.

“There hasn’t been a single reported cougar attack on humans in Oregon state history,” said Swart.

Despite the cougars’ good safety record, Hillsboro Parks & Recreation Department (HPRD) staff took every measure to keep people and cougars from any close encounters at Jackson Bottom by shutting down the trails June 23, June 26 and most of June 27 until city staff deemed it safe to open them again.

“The safety of our residents and visitors is our highest priority,” said Mary Loftin, community resources manager for HPRD. “Better safe than sorry.”

“Our decision to close the trails is part of our continued careful approach to ensure that we have done everything possible to protect our recreation users,” added Wayne Gross, director of HPRD.

Last week’s sightings represented the first time a cougar has ever been reported at Jackson Bottom.

Now, city protocol calls for immediate help from ODFW should more cougars be spotted in the future.

“They’re the experts,” said Loftin. “They have the skill set to capture an animal and the policy to deal with them accordingly.”

The Gaston area resident is worried that the recent sightings in Hillsboro will spark fears about the county’s cougar population.

“I’m worried now that people will go out and start killing cougars,” she said.

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