MONUMENT - On Sept. 3, Roy Peterson found tracks in the dust of Top Road, tracks that he believes were left by a neighborhood cougar.
He was not surprised, just worried.
"We've got so many damn cougars out here now it's not uncommon to see them," he said.
Roy and his father, Gus, live less than 10 miles out of Monument, along County Road 3, better known as Top Road. This shortcut to Heppner also has become known as a hot spot for cougar sightings.
About a month ago, workers with R&J Post and Pole of Prairie City, who are helping Roy harvest timber on his property, reported a cougar sighting not far from the road. Roy, a logger by trade and fire chief of Monument, learned from the workers that what they saw what might have been the same cougar that Roy's father confronted nearby on the county road only three days earlier.
Gus encountered a cougar at about noon while driving down Top Road. The cat was chasing a fawn across the road when Gus stopped.
"I was close enough then that the cougar put on the brakes, turned around and looked at me, and then turned around and went back the way it came," he said.
Eight or 10 families live in this area, and about a half dozen sightings of cougar have sparked discussion in local circles.
"It's not uncommon to see one around here," Gus said. "We see tracks all the time."
Asked if residents are alarmed, Gus said, "Everybody's aware."
An area resident for 73 years, Gus said, "I have a feeling that cougars are just like the coyotes and the deer and the rest of the wild animals, they're mixed in with traffic and people enough that they're not as spooky as they used to be."
Roy, who lives less than a mile from his father, said that in early August, after the sightings by his father and the work crew, he found a carcass of a full-sized elk partly covered with grass. He said he found telltale signs that it was a cougar kill.
"When I found it, it was fresh enough, you could see the teeth marks where it got it in the neck," he said.
Last winter, Roy reported that he saw three cougars, and this year so far he has seen three.
"My wife used to go out and walk on the ranch, and she won't do that anymore; she doesn't feel safe anymore," he said.
"I sure don't feel safe letting my kids run around on this ranch," he said. "I forbid them to go without a gun and without the dogs."
Roy, who works in the woods, said he looks over his shoulder and keeps his dogs handy. He has a mountain lion tag, but he worries that an emboldened cougar might approach the house, perhaps to stalk his teen-agers' penned-up 4-H animals.
"This one that's hanging around here, the two times that the cars spooked it, it didn't seem like the cars spooked it much," he noted.
Roy has treed and killed cougars, and he respects their power.
"They're quite an awesome animal when you see them out here in the wild," he said.
But for the sake of residents and his family, he said the state should reverse a recent initiative that banned the use of dogs to hunt cougars.
"There's too many of them," he argued.