Residents who live in the Scammel Hill, Bel-Aire and North Aberdeen neighborhoods are living in fear for their children, pets and neighbors since two cougars moved into the area more than six weeks ago, and are frustrated with what they see as an inadequate response from the Department of Fish and Wildlife.
“One killed a deer in my backyard and from there it went downhill,” said resident John O’Brien. “I heard a commotion about 9 at night on June 1 and couldn’t believe what was going on. It hauled the carcass into the woods between us and the neighbor’s house and stayed there for two days while it ate it.”
O’Brien said the cat continued to hang around his property, urinating and defecating in his yard. A few days later, “one was sunning itself right off my front porch. I walked out and stood at the top of my stoop and it just liesurely got up and walked away. They are not afraid of people, they are so emboldened right now. This has gotten serious; they are right in your face.”
Sharon Ford has seen her share of cougars over the past several weeks, but says she hasn’t seen much in the way of help from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, despite several calls from herself and other concerned residents.
“I called Scott Harris (Region 6 wildlife conflict specialist) and he more or less just kind of brushed it off,” she said. “We don’t want them killed, but trapped and relocated. Our backyard backs up to Sherwood Forest, and even though our yard’s fenced we won’t let our dogs out alone. A lot of older people walk in this area and don’t realize this is going on. There have been numerous cats missing and people can hear the cries of the deer the cougars are killing at night.”
Harris said he understands the concerns over the sightings but said the risks involved in trapping and relocating the animals make the better option waiting for the cats to move on on their own.
“Our most recent report was over the weekend where they had basically moved east of the Wishkah River into a large block of timber east of the Fern Hill Cemetery,” he said. “From the trail camera pictures we’ve seen, they are either two sub-adults who have left mom, or a female adult cougar with her offspring.”
Game camera footage shows both cats together in the area of Alden and Chilton roads early Monday morning.
“There’s a lady down the street here that doesn’t feel safe,” said O’Brien. “In one of the pictures of the two cougars together, one of them is looking directly down into her property.”
Harris admits he expected the cougars to have moved on by now, but added cougars have very large territories and use the greenbelts that cross the landscape in the Scammel Hill area to move around. He said attempting to trap the cats has risks.
“The traps are very large with a heavy door. I worry about some kid or somebody coming across it and injuring themselves,” said Harris. “All these other methods have risks, and when we start weighing the options, the worst-case scenario would be if it is a young female and a sub-adult and I capture mom. Now we have a desperate teenage cougar because it is still relying on mom to feed it.”
Harris said some of the people he’s talked to in the area said they would rather let the cougars be so they could thin out the rising deer population. While he hasn’t seen anyone feeding deer in the area, he said it’s important to remove food sources that attract the deer, including not feeding the birds — the deer are attracted to the seeds. Harris said the best thing to do for residents of the area is to shoo away any deer that linger on their property; without the deer, the cougars would be forced to move on to find another food source.
“The reality is the lions aren’t really doing anything wrong,” he said. “People have to realize they really aren’t that dangerous. The people I’ve talked to have said when they have startled the cats they have left and not returned. It’s not uncommon for them to not run away, but just walk away. They are cats.”
O’Brien and other residents aren’t convinced yelling and throwing things is doing much to keep the cougars out of their neighborhood.
“On the Fourth of July at 1 a.m. one attacked a chicken coop on Bel-Aire,” he said. “In North Aberdeen, one was trying to break into a rabbit hutch.” O’Brien said in both those instances the homeowners were yelling out the window and throwing things at the cat but it didn’t seem to faze it. In fact, he said, in the North Aberdeen incident, which was on Hill Avenue, the cat came back just hours later to make another run at the hutch.
Harris said the owner of the chicken coop actually had a hole in the roof of the coop that allowed the cougar access to the chickens inside. Since the homeowner fixed the hole he hasn’t reported another incident, he said.
“Something has to happen and it seems like they’re just trying to placate us,” said O’Brien. He said there have been sightings on Young Street and Earl Street.
“The guy on Young Street had one in his backyard and he said it stared him down for four minutes, long enough for him to get a camera. We used to have seven deer spending the night, every night, on our property, now there are no deer, they have all been pushed to Broadway between 8th and 10th.”
Sightings are being reported on Bel-Aire, Ridgeway and Montview. According to residents, the pair show no signs of moving out of the area, and to complicate matters, reports of seeing two small kittens with the adult cougars have been trickling in since the weekend. The Daily World was unable to confirm the kittens report.
Ford added, “I’ve called the mayor twice and he hasn’t responded either. It makes a citizen feel like nobody is helping us. At least try to make an attempt to make people with little children in the neighborhood aware of the problem.”
Residents of the area agree, they want to make sure everyone in the North Aberdeen, Bel-Aire and Scammel Hill neighborhoods is aware the cougars are in the area so they can take measures to protect themselves, their families and pets.