Mountain Lion Visits Urban Seattle Park

Mountain_lionA cougar visited Discovery Park in Seattle and made world news last weekend.  See BBC article.   The cougar was spotted by an employee in the 534-acre park.  (A square mile is 640 acres, in case you didn’t know that already.)  The animal was trapped and relocated to a more remote location.  Game agents placed a radio-tracking collar on the cat.

I found this news story funny, because the Fish and Wildlife Department has frequently taken the position that problematic cougar encounters were the result of human habitat encroachment.  In other words, Washington’s population boom led too many people to relocate to rural areas.   In the late-90’s when I worked as the prosecutor for Ferry County, I worked with the county commissioners to try to force the State to better assist rural residents in management of these cats.  When hound hunting was banned in the late 1996 (by voter initiative) it was widely predicted that there would be a large increase in cougar population in Washington.   In 1996, the Seattle-Times ran an editorial urging voters NOT to support a ban on hound hunting, warning that such a ban could lead to 10% yearly increases in cougar population similar to what happened in Oregon.  Now a cat was found just a few miles from the newspaper’s downtown offices.   Symbolism is often an important driver of political change.

The sighting of a cougar in Seattle got far more media attention then the incident last Wednesday in Stevens County where a cougar attacked a 5-year-old child.  The boy was attacked when he and his family were hiking a trail in on Abercrombie Mountain along Silver Creek in the Colville National Forest.   The boy’s mother was near him when the cougar suddenly attacked from out of a brushy area.  The woman fought off the cat, and the parents took the child about 25 miles to the hospital in Canada.  See article.  In my opinion, the mother likely saved the child’s life by her actions.  Unlike fending off bear attack, most cougar attacks are stopped by fighting back aggressively.

As to the Seattle cougar, Department of Fish and Wildlife Capt. Bill Hebner commented: “We had over 450 confirmed dog attacks on an annual basis in King County and no cougar attacks; so that should help put it into perspective.”

Am I the only one who thinks that comment sounds glib?  After all, they did close the park down for 5 days until the cougar was caught.  You can see online the great expense and effort that Fish and Wildlife put into removing this Seattle cougar.  Does the department respond with the same vigor for problem cats in inhabited areas of Eastern Washington?

In the Seattle-PI article, Capt. Hebner admitted that Department of Fish and Wildlife officials initially thought the sightings of a cougar in Seattle could be bogus.   Hebner explained that he did not believe it until he talked to a woman that had seen one.    He quizzed her on the cat’s coloration.  He said the woman’s description of the tail length was “spot-on.”    “She even described how it ran, and her description of it loping and running is exactly how a cougar would move,” Hebner said.   You really have to wonder about some of these top-level F&W guys.  What in the world else would this woman be describing if not a cougar? Could the caller really have confused that with another animal?  At 140 pounds it is 10 times the size of a house cat.  In the past, many Eastern Washington residents have complained that F&W officials in Western Washington are often dismissive of cougar fears, or stories of attacks.

4 Responses to “Mountain Lion Visits Urban Seattle Park”

  • I know it is hard to believe, but the vast majority of mountain lion sightings are actually false. People describe cougar sightings when they actually see housecats, bobcats, dogs, or even nothing at all. I was responsible for responding to mountain lion sightings in a national park for over 5 years. I blogged about some of my experiences here: //blogstuffbyemily.blogspot.com/2009/08/believing-is-seeing.html

  • Beatrice:

    The kid who was attacked by a cougar, suffered lacerations requiring stitches. But rather than risk a crappy U.S. hospital, the parents drove him back home to a Canadian hospital. What does that tell you about our health care system?

  • Lima:

    I feel bad for this boy who was attacked. The injuries might not have been serious, but the emotional trauma of being attacked is severe. My son was attacked by a dog, and received three stiches, butjust was not the same. We could not take him any where dogs could be until he was in Jr. High.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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