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For the week of Oct. 13, 1999 through Oct. 19, 1999

Cougars to be "dispatched" at police discretion

Express Staff Writer

Idaho Department of Fish and Game and local police departments decided last week that each city should use its own judgment in dealing with roaming cougars.

That means a cougar found within city limits "may be dispatched at the discretion of any police officer who feels that animal is a threat to public safety," Fish and Game conservation officer Roger Olson said in an interview and in a written statement following a meeting Thursday in Hailey.

A cougar is considered to be a threat to public safety if it "charges or makes intentional contact with a person," Olson said.

Additionally, a cougar may be killed "when documented behavior reaches an unacceptable level," he said.

"It is not possible to define all the circumstances or series of events that could lead to this decision," he said, but some factors local officials and Fish and Game will use to determine an unacceptable level are the locations and frequency of cougar activity, behavior towards humans, the time of day and the time of year.

As for trapping or tranquilizing the animals for removal, Olson said that it is impractical and that neither the cities nor Fish and Game are considering the options further.

Hailey police Chief Jack Stoneback said in a telephone conversation his officers might use rubber buckshot to scare an animal away in some circumstances, "but that’s about it."

The thing to bear in mind about predators coming into town, Olson said, is that "they’re all after food."

Olson said that bird feeders, trash, pet food and pets left outdoors will all attract predators.

Three weeks ago, when conservation officers were looking for a cougar near Hop Porter City Park in Hailey, Olson said, they first spotted two dogs roaming across the grass followed shortly by the cougar.

"If people want their neighborhoods to be safe, don’t supply predators with food," Olson said.

Thursday’s decision follows the shooting of a small male cougar by Ketchum police at a home on Garnet Street last Saturday. Officers shot six rounds of buckshot into the 65-pound cat after it reportedly threatened the homeowner’s dog.

Two weeks before that, a cougar reportedly killed a dog tethered outside a house on North River Street in Hailey, attacked another dog and ate two caged rabbits on Broadford Road in Hailey.

One thing that has made dealing with the cougars so difficult, Olson said, is a lack of reliable documentation of cougar activity. Without that documentation, it’s impossible to know when a cougar has become a problem, he said. Sometimes a resident will report seeing a cougar, he said, and it will turn out to be a big yellow dog.

In the future, he said, police departments will keep more detailed records of cougar incidents in town, "just to sort out the wheat from the chaff, so we’re all dealing with wheat."


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