A rustling in the bushes, harsh growls, sounds of a struggle and a chorus of dogs losing their minds left some Astorians convinced a cougar passed through their neighborhood Monday night.
Astoria police received a report of a possible cougar sighting on the 500 block of Duane Street the next day, but absent anyone laying eyes on an actual big cat or snapping a photo, the police are not sure if the animal people heard was a cougar or something else.
The report they received was sparse on details, Deputy Chief Eric Halverson said. The people who reported the incident acknowledged they did not see the animal. They told police they heard something in the bushes that they believed was a large predator and also thought they heard another animal being attacked. On Facebook, several residents of the neighborhood described hearing similar noises, and other people chimed in about possible sightings elsewhere in Astoria. So far, police have only received the one call.
“We live in an area where we have forested areas up against the city,” Halverson noted.
There are regular wildlife encounters police respond to, from more routine calls about injured deer to much rarer sightings of cougars. The last confirmed cougar sighting in Astoria occurred in 2012, and before that in 2009, according to police records.
Astoria police conferred with the Oregon State Police’s fish and game unit as well as the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, but said the agencies have not had any reports of recent cougar activity in Astoria.
“Obviously we’d want to know if somebody believes one of these animals is creating an imminent threat,” Halverson said.
The state’s Fish and Wildlife Department devotes several webpages to educating people about how to live with wildlife. When it comes to living with cougars, the state recommends keeping pets indoors at dawn and dusk and also feeding those pets indoors. People should not feed wildlife, since this may attract cougars as well. They should be aware of places where deer or elk concentrate.
In the very rare instance of a cougar encounter, people should stay calm, stand their ground and speak loudly and firmly.
“Cougars often will retreat if given the opportunity,” the state webpage notes. “Leave the animal a way to escape.”
Cougars tend to avoid noisy areas and it is rare to have a cougar stay in the same area for more than a few days before moving on, unless they are near a good supply of livestock that is left out at night.
Coastal cougar populations appear to be on the rise with a total state population of more than 6,000, according to a recent survey by the state. A handful of cougars have already been killed this year after they threatened public safety.
A cougar’s range can vary greatly depending on the landscape it is navigating. Preliminary data collected from cougars collared this winter in Fish and Wildlife’s Alsea management area near Newport revealed the elusive predators may have relatively small ranges on the coast. The older males that were collared had ranges of about 50 square miles — smaller than what researchers have seen for cougars living in Eastern Oregon. One female’s range appeared to be closer to 15 square miles.