Medford cougars' activities are being monitored

Two cougars seen in the east Medford hills Thursday night chasing deer and a raccoon while illuminated by police flashlights have not yet committed enough bad behavior to be killed, authorities say.

Four Medford police watched the two cougars, which they estimated at less than 100 pounds each, chasing the other in-town wildlife about 10:30 p.m. along residential streets in the area of Hillcrest Road and Cherry Lane.

Initial complaints from residents placed the cougars in the area of Cherry Lane and Stanford Avenue. Officers discovered the animals several blocks away at Hillcrest Road and Mariposa Terrace.

"They were not at all concerned about the officers' presence," Medford police Sgt. Mark Boone said this morning. "That, obviously, shows a lack of concern for humans."

But it takes more than ignoring people and flashlights to reach safety thresholds required under state cougar management rules for these animals to be killed, said Mark Vargas, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's Rogue District wildlife biologist.

To trigger so-called "administrative removal" of a cougar, it must be seen among people repeatedly in the daytime or show aggressive behavior toward people, pets or livestock.

"Seeing a cat chase wildlife at nighttime — that's what these animals do," Vargas said.

"These things are in town all the time," he said. "These animals probably have been there more than once. It just happens they got caught being seen now."

The western slope of Roxy Ann Peak was excellent cougar habitat prior to development there and the outlying areas remain prime locales for them, Vargas said.

"There are always an active cougar or two working the area," Vargas said. "Even if these cougars get killed, others would move into that habitat."

ODFW biologists will keep tabs on these animals to document their behavior should it escalate to the point where killing them becomes appropriate, Vargas said.

If the cougars were deemed a public-safety hazard, the animals likely would be shot by federal Wildlife Services agent Cricket Peyton, Vargas said. If Peyton were unavailable, a Medford police officer likely would be asked because the cougars were within city limits, he said.

The ODFW has no policy for trapping and relocating offending cougars, because that would just push any behavioral problems into new environs, Vargas said.

Medford police today issued a neighborhood alert for area residents to be cautious and aware of the cougars' presence just as people plan to fire up barbecues for Labor Day weekend festivities.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail

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