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Cougar sighted close to town

by
Rob Ruth

Oh dear, it wasn’t a deer.

When Weiser Flat resident Peggy Gray caught sight of the creature in her headlights, it gave her quite a start.

It was a cougar, sure as shootin’.

Her sighting occurred last Monday, Nov. 13, around 5:40 a.m. on County Road 70 at Pioneer Road. The cougar was standing just off the northern edge of the road in some tall grass down from the railroad tracks.

Gray, who was on her regular morning drive to work, said she was only traveling at around 35 mph because that section of County Road 70 is near a hay field where deer often graze. It’s not unusual for her to have to stop or slow for deer in the roadway.

She said that as her car approached the brown form in the grass, she expected to see just another deer, but then she saw it was a big cat’s face that was staring back at her. Later that morn-ing she reported the sighting to the Washington County Sheriff’s Office, which in turn contacted Mark Sands, Idaho Fish & Game’s conservation officer for the local area.

The County Road 70/Pioneer Road intersection is only about a mile from the western Weiser city limit on Pioneer, and a little farther from the limit at County Road 70.

In an interview on Friday, Sands told the Signal American of two other cougar sightings west of the city within the past month, but both of those were a couple of miles farther west and down by the river. He said he has no way of knowing whether the recent sight-ings have been of multiple animals or all of the same cougar.

Whatever the case, Sands says it’s not uncommon for the big cats to be in the area at this time of year after following their food source, deer, down from the mountains.

More important, Sands doesn’t consider our local big cats to pose much threat to humans because these animals are subject to hunting in Idaho. As a result, he said, they’re pretty shy around the two-legged set, and even a child’s human scent is enough to send a cat packing nearly every time. He said cougars tend to be more dangerous to humans in states where the cougars aren’t hunted and are therefore less fearful of humans.

Occasionally, though, Fish & Game will take action against a worrisome cat hanging around for too long in areas where humans live. Last year in the farmlands southeast of Fruitland, Sands said, F&G hired hound hunters to track a cougar that had been lingering. The animal disappeared. Sands said the cougar was not involved in any harmful incidents while in the area.

--WEISER SIGNAL AMERICAN
11/20/06