June 8, 1998
Tips for reducing bear or cougar encounters
by Andrew Walgamott
COUGAR MOUNTAIN--Do you like the outdoors, hiking through green forests, or maybe just gardening in your backyard? Wild animals tend to haunt those places too. But not all of them eat grass. The question is, do you know what to do when you encounter a cougar or bear? With run-ins on the rise, King County and state officials launched a public education campaign last week to make people aware of the behavior of wild animals and what to do when confronted by one.
"Our King County park system manages about 10,000 acres of parks, trails and open spaces that could be suitable habitat for cougars, bears and other wildlife," said King County Executive Ron Sims at Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park last week. King County Parks will soon begin erecting educational signs and distributing new informational brochures on cougars and bears at various park sites. The brochures, offering practical advice on how to co-exist with wild animals, were created by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).
Encounters with cougars and bears have grown in recent years as the populations of all three have expanded, according to Tim Waters, WDFW North Sound spokesman. Also, new housing is backing up against former wildlands, and greenbelts form obscured corridors for animals to move through, he said. While Waters said encounters are extremely rare, he gave some tips on how to reduce the odds of coming across an animal.
For cougars, he advised homeowners to:
Keep pets indoors and farm animals enclosed at night;
Stow pet food and garbage;
Supervise small children playing outside. Quick, darting movements attract cougars.
He said outdoor enthusiasts shouldn't go alone into the woods. To avoid cougars, they should make noise, keep a clean camp and not approach dead animals. "Cougars eat part of their kills and then come back later to eat again," Waters said. If a cougar is encountered, he said not to run but to try and appear bigger than the animal. "Don't take your eyes off them. Shout, throw rocks, wave your arms." If attacked, he said to fight back aggressively. "Don't let the cougar think you are prey. Make it think you are dangerous," Waters said.
"For bears, many of these tips are the same," he said. But he said to avoid eye contact with bears which take that as a challenge. If attacked, fight back, but as a last resort, he suggested to play dead by curling yourself into a ball. Encounters rise around this time of year as mothers with kittens or cubs move around, and hikers are attracted back to the hills. WDFW reports 561 verified public complaints about cougars in 1997, and 541 complaints about bears. "This week, we've had complaints from Gig Harbor to Granite Falls, as well as Bellevue, Newcastle and Kent," Waters said.
With a decrease in hunter pressure, cougar and bear populations have increased recently. One reason for that is that Washington voters banned the hunting of both species with dogs. One man who believes that the law should be repealed is Jim Stacey, a 21-year resident of Hollywood Hill. He said his daughter and son-in-law spotted a cougar bounding across a road near the Hollywood Hill Schoolhouse May 18. Stacey said predators represent a threat to humans and likened their increasing presence to a bad intersection where people get killed but nothing is done about it. "We're waiting for an accident to happen. We ought to be protected against them," he said.