Depsite increased mountain lion sightings, there are no signs the population is growing

by: PHOTO COURTESY ODFW - While actual cougar or mountain lion sightings have increased, coyotes, bobcats and dogs are often mistaken for cougars. A mountain lion can be identified by its large size, consistent tan color and long tail. Oregon is home to more than 5,700 cougars, or mountain lions, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The big cats are rarely sighted due to their private nature, but over the past 15 years, calls to ODFW reporting cougar sightings have become increasingly more common, said Don Vandeberg, district wildlife biologist with ODFW.

On Sunday, May 12, a cougar sighting was reported at Wapato Park on Sauvie Island. The group that reported the sighting said it was heading to Hadley’s Landing—a dock that provides access to the Multnomah Channel—when the cat crossed the path in front of them and disappeared into the woods.

Earlier this month, another cougar was sighted in the backyard of a family home in Lake Oswego.

The sighting was reported to local police who warned residents to keep on the lookout.

The increased amount of cougar reports in recent years doesn’t necessarily mean the population is growing, despite a tendency by some to believe it is.

“One was hit on Scappoose-Vernonia Highway a couple years ago,” Vandeberg said. “I know people want to say [increased sightings] might be an expansion of population, but that’s not confirmed.”

Vandeberg has dealt with cougar sightings on Sauvie Island before. In May 2010 he identified a six-foot-long by three-foot-tall mountain lion on the island based on its tracks alone.

Vandeberg said cougars are often misidentified by those reporting them and are nearly impossible to find. “Typically it takes another sighting to confirm the presence of a cougar,” he said.

ODFW’s protocol is to treat cougar reports as legitimate until proven otherwise. Since the cats are so elusive, ODFW spends most of its time educating the public on what to do when confronted by a cougar rather than tracking them.

Vandeberg said male cougars are in a constant state of travel — occupying a home range of 100-120 square miles. Often, when a cougar wanders into a more populated area, it is a male who has been kicked out of its native territory by other adult males due to competition for mates or other resources.

“If the animals are driven out, they will go to surrounding home ranges,” he said. “They get a lot of attention within the city limits, they don’t like that.”

For this reason, ODFW usually lets wandering cougars find their way back into an appropriate habitat.

“We typically don’t relocate cougars, the only circumstance in which we do that is with cubs,” Vandeberg said. “If you’ve got a good cougar habitat out there, it’s probably occupied by other males.”

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