ASHLAND — A cougar killed a lamb 10 feet from the back door of a home at the edge of the city limits, leading Oregon Department of Fish & Wildlife officials to warn residents around the railroad trestle on North Main Street that they should watch their animals and put up a loud human presence.
The attack, discovered Friday morning, does not signal an increase in the cougar population or change in their behavior, but, "as humans extend into cougar habitat and vice-versa, cougars will look for anything on your property that's an easy take, even big dogs," said Rosemary Stussy, a state wildlife biologist.
Homeowner Kim Lewis said the cougar took advantage of a situation in which the guard dog, a golden Lab, was inside for the night and two nearly mature lambs were on seven acres of pasture by his home, above the entrance to Ashland Mine Road on the west side of Highway 99.
State biologists confirmed that a cougar killed the lamb and removed the carcass, which was gutted in the cougar's usual way, to devour the heart and lungs, said Lewis.
The site of the attack is on lower Wright's Creek at the edge of a residential area.
"If you're on the edge of any town in Southern Oregon," said Stussy, "you're in the territory of adult male and female cougars. ... There are good cougars and bad cougars — and the good ones behave appropriately and don't come kill your animals."
The cougar in the Lewis attack will be trapped and killed by Jackson County's half-time trapper, Cricket Peyton, who is paid with county and federal funds, said Stussy. She said relocation of offending cougars and bears is not allowed by state law.
The cougar took the lamb "in my very personal space" off the back deck, said Lewis, dragging it around the pasture and leaving wool spread widely.
Following the advice of state biologists, Lewis said he will show his presence often in the pasture, making lots of noise — banging pots and pans is effective — and setting up recorded sounds of shots, to be triggered by motion detectors.
"A couple of big, mean dogs can deter cougars, but most dogs and cats are just snacks to cougars, even great Danes and St. Bernards," said Stussy.
Yard lighting triggered by motion detectors is effective a few times, said Stussy, then cougars decide it is no threat. Sprinklers triggered by motion detectors, however, work.
"Remember, cats don't like water," she said.
Cougars are becoming habituated to humans and can approach domestic animals even in daytime "because no one is telling them 'no' anymore," said Stussy. "They didn't come around the pioneers because they shot everything that moved."
Cougars shy away from upright, two-legged humans, who are not part of their natural world, and will flee, she said, "if you fire off a few rounds (not allowed inside cities), bang pots and pans or set off your car alarm."
Cougars will set up and patrol territory, often returning to sites of successful kills, said Stussy, adding they will be especially attracted to places where they see lots of deer or feral cats.
Ashland police have handled only one complaint about a bear and one for a cougar in the past three years, said Police Chief Terry Holderness, noting that all city workers just were trained in how to deal with such encounters.
During the sightings, "we told people to leave them alone and they would go away and they did," Holderness said.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.