On the lam

    A 197-pound cougar perches in a tree after being treed by hounds March 5. The cougar is the largest recorded tagged cat in Washington. Biologists placed a tracking collar on the animal as part of a larger predator/prey study. [Katie Kern / Courtesy]

    ZIGZAG — Government hunters in their first day out found no sign Thursday of the cougar blamed for Oregon’s first fatal mountain lion attack, and they plan to widen their search Friday.

    Two federal Wildlife Service agents rode mules and were joined by four trained tracking dogs over nine miles of cleared trail but found not a shred of evidence of the cougar that killed 55-year-old Gresham hiker Diana Bober or any other cougar, according to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

    “This is big country,” Brian Wolfer, ODFW’s watershed manager, who is leading the capture effort, said in a statement. “The search may take some time and will be a fluid situation. We’ll continue to adjust our operation as necessary.”

    Plans are to kill any cougar the agents find and take DNA samples to see whether they match the sample collected from the attack scene to ensure they have killed the offending cougar.

    Capturing and holding a live cougar until DNA confirmation was deemed not an option because of the rugged area and the lag-time of up to a week for DNA results, ODFW spokeswoman Michelle Dennehy said.

    Bober was last seen Aug. 29, and her body was discovered off a remote Mount Hood National Forest trail Monday. An autopsy conducted Tuesday concluded that she died from an animal attack and the nature of her injuries led ODFW biologists to conclude she was killed by a cougar, but they are awaiting DNA tests from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Forensics Laboratory in Ashland for final verification.

    Biologists intended to start the search where Bober’s body was found, and Thursday’s planned expansion deeper into the rugged and remote Hunchback Mountain area near Welches will remain within cougars’ general home ranges, Dennehy said.

    ODFW research shows that male cougars in the Coast Range have a home range averaging 123 miles and adult females have a range averaging 22.5 miles.

    It is unknown whether the cougar that killed Bober was male or female, Dennehy said.

    While cougar attacks on humans are extremely rare, and fewer than 30 fatal attacks have been recorded in more than a century in the West and Canada, cougar experts say the most common offenders are 2-year-old males.

    Mount Hood National Forest crews were able to clear several trees along the trails so Wildlife Service agents could ride mules into the steep and rugged terrain, Dennehy said.

    ODFW biologists also have set up more trail cameras in the hopes of picking up cougar activity, and they have asked locals with trail cameras to check them for cougar images, Dennehy said.

    Reach Mail Tribune reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or mfreeman@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @MTwriterFreeman.

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