BEND, Ore. (AP) — Local and federal agencies are warning residents in western Washington and central Oregon to be on the lookout for cougars.
The Sunriver Police Department and the Bureau of Land Management both issued warnings Saturday after sightings of the animal were reported in Sunriver and a cougar attacked cyclists in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle, The Bend Bulletin reported .
The cougar attack resulted in the death of one cyclist. It is the first time a cougar killed someone in Washington in 94 years.
“Obviously, that deal that occurred in Washington has everyone a little on edge,” Sunriver Interim Police Chief Scott Hayes said.
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While there is no record of a wild cougar killing a human in Oregon, population growth in the state has brought more humans into contact with the big cats.
Cougars are the largest species of cat found in Oregon.
The mountain lions once roamed throughout the state’s forests. However, cougars weren’t protected in Oregon through much of the 20th century, and unregulated hunts and bounties on the animal drove their numbers down through the late 1960s, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s cougar management plan, which guides management of the species in Oregon.
Cougars were reclassified as a game animal in the late 1960s, which limited how they could be hunted, Michelle Dennehy said, wildlife communications coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Cougar populations have recovered over the past 50 years, and Dennehy said more than 6,000 cougars live in Oregon today, up from the fewer than 200 that were in the state by the end of the ’60s.
Dennehy said the cats rely on deer and elk for food and tend to gravitate toward areas of the forest that have healthy populations of such animals.
Hayes said cougars can harm pets and other animals left outside and asked residents to pay attention to their surroundings.
Information from: The Bulletin, http://www.bendbulletin.com