Beware: Basin critters can kill you

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This is the first in a series about dangerous and irritating Columbia Basin Critters.

There are a few critters living in the Columbia Basin which are capable of killing you, while others are just irritating. Those capable of killing humans include cougars.

Although research indicates there have been 17 cases of cougars killing humans in the past 120 years. In fact, most humans won’t even see a cougar in their lifetime.

My hunting buddies and I always buy a bear and cougar tab, just in case we see one while hunting deer. This is the way many cougar are taken, when a cougar just happens to appear within range of a hunter going after another species.

Two hunters were hunting chukar a few years ago on the west side of Lake Lenore. They heard a noise in the tall grass in the grass at the bottom of a small draw. One thought it was a coyote and went to get it.

He was moving the tall grass with the barrel of his shotgun when a cougar appeared when he moved the grass to the side. This hunter was able to kill and tag the animal.

Three cougar were killed within 10 miles of Ephrata one hunting season. Another was killed in or just outside Ephrata the following February. This one was shot by Fish and Wildlife in a Russian olive tree near the canal. The spot is easily seen from Basin Street. Go over the hump in Ephrata and turn left on Basin Street and head toward Quincy.

When you pass the Best Western Motel on your left, look to the right and you will the canal and the Russian olive trees. The officers told me they found where kids had been building a fort beneath the tree where the cougar was hiding. They also found bicycle tracks in a trail heading to the nearest housing area and there were cougar tracks in the bike tracks.

Example of a family Basin hike: A family of four, two adults, two children ages 8 and 10 want to explore the Lake Lenore Caves. They head up the trail and enjoy the first two caves and the scenery.

The children now have want to head to the third cave and charge ahead, running down the trail. Bad move. Keep the group together.

But what if you do encounter a cougar? Here are some ideas/tips from Fish and Wildlife. Stop, pick up small children immediately, and don’t run. Running and rapid movements may trigger an attack. Remember, at close range, a cougar’s instinct is to chase. Stay calm and keep eye contact.

Remain in an upright position. Do not crouch down as mountain lions are more likely to go after shorter prey. Do what you can to appear large by raising and waving your arms or opening your jacket. Never turn your back on a mountain lion. Face the cougar. Talk to it firmly while slowly backing away. Always leave the animal an escape route.

If the cougar does not flee, be more assertive. If it shows signs of aggression (crouches with ears back, teeth bared, hissing, tail twitching, and hind feet pumping in preparation to jump), shout, wave your arms and throw anything you have available (water bottle, book, backpack). The idea is to convince the cougar that you are not prey, but a potential danger.

If the cougar attacks, fight back. Be aggressive and try to stay on your feet. Cougars have been driven away by people who have fought back using anything within reach, including sticks, rocks, shovels, backpacks, and clothing, even bare hands.

If you are aggressive enough, a cougar will flee, realizing it has made a mistake. Pepper spray in the cougar’s face is also effective in the extreme unlikelihood of a close encounter with a cougar.

We have, so far, discussed the possibility of encountering a big cat when out hiking or exploring the country side. Those living away from civilization a bit should take more precautions and safeguards.

Do not attract wildlife, such as deer, by feeding them. Deer are the main food of these lions. There is a bunch of deer in and around Wilson Creek. The cats have been seen in town and their tracks have been seen in town. These animals have been seen sunning themselves on hillside rocks near town.

Smart landscaping the area around a house and nearby property will remove potential hiding places. Pets can be easy prey for cougars and coyotes. Bring them in at night or secure them in a kennel.

Do not leave pet food outside, as this source of food might attract small animals, such as racoons, skunks and others. Most farm yards have yard lights, which stay on all night. Motion-sensor lights will not only flood other areas with light, but indicate when something has entered the area.

Make sure garbage cans have tight-fitting lids. While the garbage might not attract cougars, it might attract other animals the cats see as food.

This information is not intended to scare anyone, but, rather, to make sure hikers and explorers are prepared when heading into the Great Outdoors of the Columbia Basin.

Next week: We will cover skunks, ticks, bears, rattlesnakes, scorpions and other Basin critters in this series.

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