SALEM, Ore. (AP) — In a scenario that could come from a B movie, normally timid mountain lions are forced by heavy snows into a remote community, where they feast on pets and chickens. It's happening in Oregon.
Cougars prowling through La Pine have killed two pets and at least 12 chickens, stoking fear in the town in the piney woods of Oregon east of the Cascade Range.
On Saturday, Deschutes County deputies shot and killed a cougar that was hiding under a porch after attacking a dog. On Monday, state and federal wildlife officials went to investigate, and killed three more of the cougars whose paw prints showed they had come right up to houses, on decks and in backyards.
Randy Lewis, a wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, was one of the two men who tracked the cougars using dogs.
They found "an alarming amount" of cougar tracks that showed the cats had been on porches, in sheds and under cars.
Meanwhile, he received phone calls, including from an elementary school, asking if children should be kept inside.
The tracking dogs found the cougars and chased them up a tree. Lewis' partner from a federal agency killed three cougars with his rifle but the fourth got away, apparently unhurt. They went back out on Tuesday to look for the cougar but couldn't find it.
For Lewis, it was difficult to put the cats down but authorities had determined they were causing public safety issues.
"Nobody likes to euthanize cougars," said Corey Heath, wildlife district biologist for the state wildlife department. "But when you have multiple cougars living among houses, taking pets, being seen, it's not a good situation."
The state wildlife department said in a statement that wildlife managers will not relocate the trespassing cougars because the animals would cause problems in new areas or return to La Pine.
Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predators Defense, a Eugene-based group that works to protect native predators, said he is "outraged over what's happening."
He noted that La Pine is surrounded by wilderness and residents should co-exist with wildlife.
"If you live in this habitat, it is incumbent on you to take responsibility" and not let pets roam freely, he said.
His group says there have been only 24 fatal cougar attacks on people in North America since 1890 — a smaller fatality rate than deaths caused by dogs or cattle.
There has never been an attack by a wild cougar on a person in Oregon, which is home to about 6,300 cougars, the Oregon wildlife agency said.
Resident Shannon Shahan said 14 of her chickens were killed or died of shock. She told Bend TV station KTVZ the cougars had jumped a fence to get at the chickens. Her surveillance cameras caught at least one cougar on her property, leaving large paw prints in the snow.
The state wildlife department said deep snow is likely a factor in the appearance of the cougars.
"The cougars are having trouble hunting their traditional prey so are coming to residential areas for an easier meal," Heath said. "Unfortunately at this point we consider them a significant human safety risk, so they need to be removed for the safety of La Pine residents."
Cougars also killed a dog and a cat.
Officials recommended residents feed their pets indoors, walk their dogs on a leash and be aware of their surroundings.
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