By Ann McCreary
Another dog was attacked last week by a cougar that jumped onto the front porch of a Twisp River Road home.
The cougar was frightened away before seriously harming the dog when owner Anna Kominak, who was in the kitchen next to the porch, ran to the porch and screamed at the cougar.
Last week’s incident continues a string of attacks by cougars on pets and livestock in the Methow Valley.
Kominak said she and her family were finishing dinner around 8 p.m. on Jan. 13, and her dog Shadow was sitting on the porch just outside the dining area where the family was eating.
“I heard a scuffle and instinctively I knew it was a cougar. I opened the door and the cat was jumping over the railing,” Kominak said.
“If we hadn’t been about eight feet away from our porch, he’d be gone,” Kominak said of Shadow. “This was a really bold move. The porch is lighted.”
Shadow, a large black lab, was limping for a couple of days after the attack, but was otherwise unscathed, Kominak said.
Cal Treser, enforcement officer for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), said the high volume of cougar sightings and encounters continued last week. Treser and Steve Reynaud, who helps wildlife officials track cougars with his hounds, pursued a cougar that was reported near a home on the East County Road on Saturday (Jan. 18).
The cougar swam across the Methow River, followed by one of Reynaud’s dogs. Reynaud, who didn’t want to lose track of the dog, waded across the river.
“He found a place that was only about waist deep,” Treser said. The cougar crossed Highway 20 near the KOA campground, pursued by the dog. It was eventually treed in a Ponderosa pine near Liberty Bell High School.
Treser said he did not shoot the cougar because it hadn’t hurt anything. However, later in the day a nearby landowner “found someone with a hunting tag and they shot it,” Treser said.
The cougar was a 3-year-old male, weighting about 100 pounds, and had a radio collar that had been placed on him about a year ago by cougar researcher Rich Beausoleil near Eight Mile up the Chewuch River, Treser said.
Research conducted over the past 13 years by Beausoleil, bear and cougar specialist for WDFW, concluded that the cougar population controls itself naturally, because cougars are extremely territorial animals that will kill other cougars to defend their territory.
Treser, however, said he believes that humans have upset that natural population balance too much, and the recent series of incidents is due to an increase in cougars.
“A stable population could only happen … where man doesn’t exist,” Treser said his week. “Man has changed wildlife and habitat from day one, right or wrong. You would have somewhat of a stable population if humans weren’t involved. Because we hunt those animals, they’re always going to be in flux.”
Treser said he thinks cougars have increased in number since Washington voters approved an initiative in 1996 that made it illegal to use dogs to hunt cougars. He said about six cougars are killed by hunters each year in the Methow Valley. Based on his estimate of the local cougar population, Treser said he believes at least 25 cougars are born in the valley each year.
In recent weeks, four cougars have been tracked and shot by wildlife officials after attacks on sheep, goats, dogs and chickens.
Beausoleil said last week that the low snow pack this year means deer are not confined to traditional winter range and are more widely dispersed, and the cougars that hunt them are more dispersed as well and therefore more likely to come in contact with humans.
For more on cougars in the Methow this winter, see Cougars on the prowl, not increase, officials say, Cougar sightings, encounters continue to add up in the valley, Coming to terms with cougars, and Human, pet encounters with cougars increase each winter.