Southern Oregon has some of the highest number of cougars; hikers continue to enjoy outdoors

MEDFORD, Ore.– Southern Oregon has seen it’s fair share of cougars sightings in Ashland and Medford have stirred public interest and created worry for some who venture into our surrounding hills and mountains.

According to Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife cougars are everywhere in the state and the southwestern portion from the Rogue Valley to the coast has some of the highest numbers. But public sightings are still rare and wildlife officials stress this fatal attack is an anomaly.

“We don’t believe that the threat to the public that’s posed by cougars is any greater today than it was yesterday,” said Brian Wolfer, ODFW. “However we don’t know and can’t quantify the threat this particular animal poses to the public.”

Native to Oregon there are around 6,600 cougars in the state according to the ODFW. With a population of 4.2 million, that’s one cougar for every 636 people.

“As far as in general people seeing, sighting a cougar, it’s kind of rare,” said Dan Ethridge, ODFW of Central Point.

In a 2015 ODFW study, it was estimated nearly 1,500 lived in the southwest region.

“Our cougar density in the southwest Oregon and on the coast and northwest is some of the highest densities in the state,” he said.

ODFW says it still receives calls about the large cats especially from farmers and people living in more rural areas. But for the casual hiker, sightings are uncommon. Though it’s something they have to consider.

“Yes, it’s definitely on my mind. I try not to go by myself,” said Harley Canon, 19, a local resident . “I try to bring my dog, my brother or both.”

Those precautions are exactly what ODFW encourage people to do even when it’s just a hike through East Medford’s Prescott Park. But many hikers NBC5 News spoke with still say cougar attacks won’t deter them from hiking.

“No it doesn’t really worry me actually because I don’t feel like I’m going to run into one,” said Canon. “It’s more I’m gonna get there. I gonna get where I want.”

In a press conference earlier today ODFW said the cougar was still at large and attempts to track it are being organized.

Evidence samples from the Mt. Hood cougar attack have been sent to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland to confirm the exact species that killed Diana Bober.

The forensics lab says this is the fourth time the lab has had to perform testing related to an animal attack on a human. While many speculate it was a cougar, the lab will be testing DNA samples to confirm it one way or another.

The forensics lab should have the tests completed within the week.

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