There were two cougar sightings between John Day and Canyon City in July. One near McDaniel Oil and one on the street between Oregon Trail Electric and St. Elizabeth's Catholic Church.

On May 10, there was a cougar on the Prairie City baseball field.

"There has never been a substantiated cougar attack in Oregon, but negative interaction has been increasing," said Larry Cooper, deputy administrator of the wildlife division of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Two small children were attacked in Washington in 1998 and 1999, and an 8-year-old girl was attacked in Nevada in 2001. All three children survived. Last year in California, a cougar killed a man and attacked a woman. All of the attacks were covered by the Associated Press.

The Oregon Hunter's Association Grant County chapter documented 29 reports of cougar activity in the county this year. One of the sightings was of a cougar drinking out of a fountain in downtown John Day.

Most of those sightings were not recorded by the John Day office of the ODFW, which had only 29 reports filed between January 2003 and July 2005.

"Almost statewide there are sightings. Lots of them," said Jeff Hagedorn, Oregon Sate Police fish and wildlife sergeant.

Total cougar population for Oregon was 6,800 last year, up from 200 in the 1960s, according to ODFW estimates.

"If I was to see one in town, not exhibiting the criteria that the law states, I'd have a rough time doing anything about it. But there are a number of characteristics, and each situation is different," Hagedorn said.

The decision to destroy an animal in Grant County would usually be made by Darren Bruning, the district wildlife biologist at the ODFW John Day field office.

Special hounds trained specifically to hunt cougar and able to track on concrete, would be brought in from the Federal Wildlife Service Agent in Pendleton or La Grande.

"If someone observes an animal in town, that in itself would not be sufficient cause," Bruning said.

Under Oregon revised statute 498.166, "a person may take a cougar or bear that poses a threat to human safety." For an animal to be a "threat to human safety," it must exhibit at least one of the following behaviors:

(A) Aggressive actions directed toward a person or persons, including but not limited to charging, false charging, growling, teeth popping and snarling.

(B) Breaking into, or attempting to break into, a residence.

(C) Attacking a pet or domestic animal as defined in ORS 167.310.

(D) Loss of wariness of humans, displayed through repeated sightings of the animal during the day near a permanent structure, permanent corral or mobile dwelling used by humans at an agricultural, timber management, ranching or construction site.

So whether the recent sightings are "repeated sightings" of the same animal becomes important.

Male cougars can have ranges of up to 200 square miles, and are territorial, so it is plausible that all four recent sightings within city limits were of the same animal. They often travel their territory in a continuos circle, which takes a week or more to complete, so it is also possible that the sightings will continue.

Another argument to support the possibility that all the sightings are of the same animal is that cougars will normally stay as far away from humans as possible. For one to come into town is unusual behavior.

However, female cougars have much smaller ranges. Females are less territorial, and there could be several living within the same area as a male. If the animals that have been seen recently are female, it is possible that it has been a different animal each time. The sex of the cougars that have been reported in city limits was not known by the ODFW.

"It could possibly be the same animal, but it's not likely," Bruning said.

To hold down a range that would include Prairie City and John Day, the animal would have to be a large male. A large male would be able to pick its home range, and defend it from other cougars, so a large male would not choose to live in this area, because it is not prime habitat, he said.

Another problem, even if it is decided that an animal needs to be destroyed, is that locating a specific animal would be "very, very difficult," Bruning said.

"If we turn the dogs loose, we're eventually going to find a lion. The problem is, we nave no way of knowing if it is the right one," he said.

Bruning has authorized the destruction of cougars before, once inside Canyon City limits, when an animal was trapped in someone's fenced back yard.

Even if one animal has been repeatedly entering local towns, and it is killed, another animal might just move into the area and take over the territory.

"This is cougar habitat. They're always going to be here," Bruning said.

To put things in perspective, the chances of being struck by lightning are greater than the chances of being attacked by a cougar.

On the other hand, with attacks occurring in California, Washington and Idaho, and the number of cougars in the area rapidly increasing, the chances of an attack occurring in Oregon are good.

"The problem is in Salem. Somebody has got to draw the line of common sense," said Ray Moles, a local member of OHA.

"We're involved right now in developing and revising our cougar management plan," Cooper said.

In the event of an encounter, try to appear as large as possible. Do not turn away from the animal and do not run. Pick up small children. Throw rocks and yell. If it does attack, a cougar will usually bite the back of the neck or head. Most cougar attacks are not fatal, and in many cases people have been able to fight off cougar attacks. In 2002, when Canadian David Parker was attacked by a cougar, he was able to kill it with a pocketknife.

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