Neighbors question how cougar sightings, capture were handled

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Some neighbors still have a lot of questions and are frustrated about how Portland police and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) handled reports of a cougar, which was eventually found Friday and euthanized.

Police originally responded to several reports of sightings in the week prior to the cougar's capture, but that's where the investigation seemed to stop for days.

Portland police spokesman Sgt. Greg Stewart said police sent out "extensive notifications," although KATU is only aware of two news releases, one of which came out the day the cougar was captured.

One neighborhood leader said many people still didn't know about the potential threat.

"Why are we not given information we need to keep our families and pets safe?" Patty Hicks said.

KATU News did two stories about cougar sightings before the second news release was sent out and it was the first to notify ODFW.

"The first call I received was from KATU, actually," said ODFW Regional spokesman Rick Swart. "When it became clear that it was a public safety issue, (police) did contact us and we responded with an on-site visit."

Swart said ODFW began tracking the reports but couldn't do much else until police could point to the physical location of the cougar. He believes police acted appropriately.

"There are different levels of concern that can occur. A cougar running across the road, I'm not going to say it didn't happen, but is it a public safety concern at that point? Not really," Swart said. "When you have hard evidence of a cougar in a stationary location, such as a tree in a residential area -- that raises the bar."

Why was it euthanized?

Swart said ODFW had to take action to capture the cougar once it was bold enough to hide out in someone's backyard.

Swart said a trained biologist then decided the cougar should be euthanized.

"There was strong evidence that that animal has decided it's going to do its work in an urban setting," he said.

In other words, the cougar would likely return to a city and become a public threat again.

When asked why the cougar wasn't taken to a wildlife refuge or sanctuary, he said there weren't any options. ODFW will only transfer animals to facilities that are AZA accredited. He said those places don't believe this cougar would have adapted well to a confined space.

"You have to remember these animals are used to living in a 100 square mile area. That's their domain," he said. "You take them and put them in 300 square feet in a cage, they don't do very well."