Cougars are a fact of life in the Methow Valley, and while they rarely pose a threat to humans, it’s wise to be aware of their presence and take some basic precautions, said Cal Treser, wildlife officer for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Cougars are around the valley all year, but people are more aware of them in winter because they follow their primary prey — deer — from higher elevations to the valley floor, and snow reveals their tracks, he said.
Once in the valley, cougars may take advantage of other easy prey, including pets and livestock.
Cougars are most active around dusk or soon after, Treser said. “As soon as it gets dark, they’re out moving around,” he said.
“I would encourage people not to be out skiing by themselves at night,” Treser said. “Cats are very curious, and they chase things.” A lone skier might be too interesting to resist, he said.
“If you’re going to do those things, be in a group, and make some noise so animals know you’re there,” Treser said.
If you should find yourself confronting a cougar, Treser advises:
• Don’t run!
• Act aggressive. Stand up tall, raise your arms over your head, try to appear larger than you are.
• Face the cougar, stare at it, make eye contact.
• Make lots of noise.
• If you have small children, pick them up and hold them.
Treser also offers these tips for living in cougar country:
• If you find a dead deer or other cougar-kill, move away from the area. The cougar is likely to be nearby and may defend its kill.
• Don’t let pets roam at night. If your dog needs to go out, take it out on a leash.
• Keep livestock confined at night.
• If you are hiking, skiing or otherwise moving through remote areas, make noise to avoid surprising cougars. Consider carrying a noisemaker like a small air horn to frighten a cougar in case of an encounter.
• Motion sensor lights near your home may discourage cougars from coming too close.
• Don’t feed deer. It attracts predators and isn’t good for the deer.
For more on cougars in the Methow this winter, see Another cougar attack adds to high number of incidents, Cougars on the prowl, not increase, officials say, Cougar sightings, encounters continue to add up in the valley, and Human, pet encounters with cougars increase each winter.