Thursday, August 9, 2012

Living the dream in the land of bears and cougars

My husband and I have been “living the dream” at Cottage Grove Lake for 23 years. We moved here as city slickers looking for a tranquil place away from the hustle and bustle of city noise, crime and screeching traffic. We immediately loved the country life but like all dreams, this one has had its share of nightmares.

Usually, life among the flora and fauna is pretty tranquil in our corner of the woods. Sightings of wild turkey, fox, pheasant, quail, ducks, geese, and a zillion varieties of birds make our hearts happy. Mamas feeding baby birds in their nests, owls hooting, and wood-peckers girdling the birch trees keep life pleasantly humming along.

The sight of a Bull Snake slithering across the grass followed by a dozen babies no longer freaks me out. They are large, look and coil like rattle snakes but unless you’re a rodent, they’re supposedly harmless. Fortunately, the population also seems to have diminished since Chuck accidently sliced one to death with his riding mower. Guess the word got around…

The raccoons have been behaving themselves and not attacking the dogs. I don’t know where they live but they regularly visit our bird feeder. Our cats haven’t brought home any rabbits since Misty Mouser drug one home from the park. She nearly scared it to death but we rescued it and returned it to its home.

Roaming bands of deer are beautiful to look at but deviously destructive! They come onto the property day and night to feast on whatever is available—usually roses. In spite of an electric fence, one large doe has been really chowing down this summer. Frustrating as that is, accidentally killing one of them with a car is worse. We are very careful and wary when driving but accidents happen.

Once, Chuck was driving into town when a young buck tried to jump over his car. Instead, he landed on the hood, bounced off and ran into the woods to die. Another time, a passing car hit a deer at the corner and-driven by adrenalin-it leaped our fence, ran clear across the field to the vegetable garden and died. Both times Chuck had to bury them. He was not happy and neither was the deer.

Falling trees are another unexpected danger of the country life. Having a tree fall out in the meadow is one thing. A big cedar once grazed the house and I thought an earthquake had hit. Recently, while we were on vacation, I got a phone call that a 50-ft. arm of one of our cedars had fallen across the driveway making it impassable for our house sitter. Our wonderful neighbor Jim came to the rescue and cleared the path. But now the tree has to go and that’s always sad.

Another phone call revealed some visitors in the neighborhood—BEARS. Oregon is home to nearly 30,000 black bears. Every time there’s a logging operation up the hill, wildlife (including bears) is forced to find new habitat. Our neighborhood is conveniently located! Their diverse diet includes berries, fruit, grasses and plants and tasty tidbits from trashcans. We have it in abundance.

They are not usually active predators but last month we learned the grizzly truth-they do consume small mammals. A nearby neighbor was goat sitting for a friend and they were corralled in a secure enclosure. It never occurred to her that they were bear bait. One morning she woke up to find her garbage cans looted and the goats eviscerated. The Wildlife Dept. determined that it was a bear kill.

Scary as that news was, the next news was chilling. A cougar had been spotted in our area and documented by a neighbor on video. Last week, our neighbor across the creek from us was walking back from his mail box (with his dog) and was startled to find a full-grown COUGAR in his dog’s kennel. Fortunately, the cougar leaped over the pen and ran up the creek. Well, the news spread quickly and the neighborhood telephone hot lines started humming.

First families with children were notified; then families with animals and so on. Because we were concerned about nearby campers and children walking down to the Wilson Creek swimming hole, I called the ODFW and Army Corps of Engineers who run the parks and alerted them. They weren’t nearly as alarmed as we were.

Oregon is home to more than 5,000 cougars. Their primary food source is deer but they will consume all manner of mammals and birds. They are most active at dawn and dusk (although our cougar was out mid-afternoon!); they are solitary animals with a cat-like appearance and tan or tawny color. Their long tail is nearly three feet long nearly a third to a half its total length. They are big.

Now, if you are in an area where bear or cougar roam, here’s some helpful tips and basic guidelines I found on the ODFW website:
Walk pets on a leash during the day; carry deterrent spray.
Feed pets indoors; shelter them for the night.
Keep small children close.
Don’t leave food and garbage outside.
Keep barbecues clean; keep lotions, soaps or candles inside.
Do not feed any wildlife i.e. squirrels, raccoons, etc.
Keep areas around bird feeders clean.
Be alert at dawn and dusk when cougars are active.
Hike or exercise with a friend before dusk.
Talk, make noise, and carry a whistle.

If you encounter a cougar:
Leave it a way to escape.
Stay calm; maintain direct eye contact.
Do not run; back away slowly but do not turn your back.
Raise your voice and speak firmly.
If the cougar seems aggressive, raise your arms, clap your hands.
If necessary: fight back with sticks, rocks, anything!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.

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