Ashland police shot at a cougar on the Southern Oregon University campus Sunday night but missed, and the cougar escaped, apparently unharmed, the department announced Monday.
The incident — and other recent sightings — led to a decision Monday to allow shooting of any cougars seen in populated areas during the daytime, but only if authorized to fire by Ashland police Chief Tighe O’Meara.
Police and university public safety officers responded Sunday after a pair of cougars were seen in the Hannon Library area at about 10 p.m. The officers attempted to chase the cougars away by making noise, according to a news release, but they were unsuccessful in scaring away the larger of the two cats.
“Everything has to be at my discretion, there is no blanket approval to shoot the animal,” O’Meara said. “We are kind of on high-alert about it.”
Another cougar sighting was reported at 6:30 a.m. Monday, about an hour before sunrise, near SOU, said Joe Mosley, SOU community and media relations director.
According to a Facebook post, the cougar hissed at a man who was out walking his dog.
According to O’Meara, police officers and SOU campus security responded at about 10 p.m. Sunday to reports of two cougars on the campus.
O’Meara “made the decision that the cat had to be put down as it presented an ongoing danger to the community, especially in such close proximity to the Hannon Library, which was open at the time,” according to the police statement.
One shot was fired from a patrol rifle at the cougar. The cougar then left the area.
Before firing, the officers made sure they had a proper back stop behind the cat that could safely absorb the bullet, according to the release.
“It is the Ashland Police Department’s responsibility to ensure the safety of all members of the community,” the release said. “The decision to put down a cougar is not made lightly. Each encounter with a cougar has to be analyzed on its own and appropriate decisions made.”
Mosley said SOU reached out to the city of Ashland Monday morning. A meeting between personnel from SOU, the city, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and a federal trapper resulted in the decision to shoot cougars in populated areas during the day.
Last week, ODFW district wildlife biologist Steve Niemela said it is within Oregon safety standards for cougars to roam and hunt at night, even in populated areas. However, if a cougar is sighted in the day in populated areas multiple times, that would be reason for concern.
Mosley said students have been instructed to be alert to their surroundings and to walk in groups in the evening.
Cougar sightings on the SOU campus can be reported to Campus Public Safety at 541-552-6258 or Ashland police at 541-482-5211.
Experts recommend that, if you see a cougar, you should:
• Make yourself big and loud;
• Look it in the eyes;
• Give the animal space to leave;
• Back away slowly;
• Never run or turn your back;
• Always face it;
• Keep pets and children close; and
• Pick up small children and put them on your shoulders.
For more information from ODFW on living in cougar country, go to bit.ly/2PQQBtk.
(Oct. 31: Story updated to correct the phone number for Ashland Police Department. The previously listed number is for Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife.)