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WDFW tips for living in cougar country, balancing beauty with safety

SPOKANE, Wash. - As summer officially begins, we have already seen several cougar-human interactions. One in Leavenworth where a cougar was put down after being accused of stalking a child, and another a cougar was seen following a woman in North Idaho who was biking.

To avoid conflicts, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife says its best to keep a close eye on your young children and keep them close if you are out in a potential cougar habitat, especially if its dusk.

Kile Westerman, a wildlife conflict specialist with the department says it may seem like we are getting more reports of cougars, but that they do typically rise in the warmer months, because more humans are out and about, though he does note, this is prime time for cougars.

"They are hunting all year round," he said, "but now we have deer dropping fawns, and elk dropping calves so there is an influx of food out there."

He says they are very unlikely to go after adults, but that young children could attract the attention of a hungry cat. If you are out hiking, he recommends going in a group, so as to make more noise and not surprise a cat. Bringing a can of bear spray is also a good idea.

"Cougars breed year round, but we will typically see a pulse in June and August, and if a cougar has kittens, they have mouths to feed," he said.

If you are letting your children play in a rural yard, he advises keeping their play area clear of overgrowth.

"You can modify the habitat to make it less attractive to cougars," he said, "they are ambush predators."

As for what happens if a cougar does appear to be hunting humans, the department takes it on a case by case basis, but will likely put the cat down.

"Normal prey species for cougars are deer and sometimes elk, so if they are targeting people, that is not a usual behavior," he said. "We don't want that to persist in the environment, and we don't want it teaching its young the same thing."

He says actual attacks are very rare.

"In the last hundred years in Washington there have only been around 20 or less," he said. "And only two fatals. One in I think 1924, and one in 2018."

Nevertheless, he says it's important to be prepared and understand that you are living in their environment too.

If you see one from afar he says it can be absolutely awe-inspiring, and they are crucial to the health of an ecosystem.

"They are important as far as controlling over population of ungulates, and that translates all the way down to salamanders," he said.


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