Cougar reports unnerve some in north county

ARLINGTON — It sounded like a screech, nothing like a cat. Mark Stevens likened it to a gigantic parakeet or a pterodactyl from the movie “Jurassic Park.”

A cougar last weekend wandered onto Stevens’ property west of Arlington Municipal Airport.

“It scared the hell out of me,” Stevens said. “It was really loud, and I could tell it was much bigger than me and very close.”

Stevens’ wife, Sheila Johnson, in her 40s, grew up in their house and she had never seen or heard a cougar there until about six months ago, Stevens said. They never saw the cougar last week, but when he described the cry to sheriff’s deputies, they said it sounded like the animal.

“I have a real concern for the kids who play in the wooded area near here,” he said.

Several people in north Snohomish County reported cougar sightings this week, said state Fish and Wildlife officer Jennifer Maurstad.

While children have been attacked before, only one human death by a cougar has ever been recorded in the state, officials said.

Unfortunately, most reports of sightings come second-hand and include rumors about the deaths of livestock and pets, Maurstad said. If people don’t see a cougar directly, officers usually don’t respond, she said.

That’s because cougars just keep moving and there isn’t much anyone can do, said cougar expert Brian Kertson, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington.

“But if you are inviting deer to eat out of your garden or raccoons to eat out of your cat’s back-porch food bowl, then you are indirectly inviting cougars to dinner, too,” Kertson said.

Male cougars travel in areas of about 200 square miles and, unless they are camping out to feast on a fat deer, they’re constantly on the move, traveling several miles each day, he said. Females, who don’t travel quite as far, also may stay in one location while they nurse a new litter.

“When the cougar habitat is altered or lost, they tend to widen their range,” Kertson said. “Multiple cat sightings usually happen in riparian areas with lots of ground cover and lots of food.”

Along with deer and raccoon, their favorite meals also include beaver and elk, he said. Attacks on horses and big dogs are rare, but owners of sheep, goats and llamas need to make sure their livestock are in the barn at night. Small pets should stay indoors, too.

If someone does encounter a cougar, it’s especially important not to run. Eye contact with the animal should be maintained and standing tall, waving and yelling is a good idea, too, Kertson said.

Cougars are elusive and don’t like human contact. The chance that someone would be attacked is very small, he said.

Given that, Anita Rutherford, who lives near Kayak Point, said she is tired of what seems to her is hysteria about cougars. She’s received many e-mails from neighbors worried about cougars.

“In our neighborhood, it’s a story that just won’t die,” Rutherford said. “Not that anybody I know has ever actually seen the cougars.”

To report concerns about cougars, call the Mill Creek office of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife at 425-775-1311, ext. 0.

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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