Possible cougar sighting raises hackles

Fish & Wildlife hope to spot animal seen near Washougal River Road

Safety in Cougar Country Home safety:
  • Avoid landscaping with plants that are palatable to deer, as deer can attract cougars to your yard.<
  • Install lighting to illuminate walkways at night.
  • Seal off open spaces under buildings and porches to prevent use as a shelter.<
  • Do not make food, water or shelter available at any time.
  • Keep garbage cans tightly sealed and compost secured.
  • Supervise children outdoors.
If you encounter a cougar:
  • Always give a cougar or cougar kittens a very wide berth.
  • Never approach a cougar or offer it food.
  • Stay together in one group.
  • Talk to the cougar firmly and hold your ground. Always leave an escape route for the animal.
  • Move slowly. Running or moving rapidly may trigger an attack.
  • Try to appear larger than the cougar. If wearing a jacket, hold it open to increase your apparent size.
  • Keep bear spray accessible.
Information provided by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Officer Thomas Moats responds to a call from Nataliya Milushkina, Monday, Nov. 5, outside her home near the Washougal River.

A Washougal area woman who lives near Washougal River Road is used to seeing eagles, raccoons and deer near her residence, but is puzzled and concerned about the most recent wildlife addition to her backyard.

Nataliya “Natasha” Milushkina said she first noticed the animal in late October, around 9:30 p.m., near her carport. She believed then — and still does — that it was a cougar on her property.

“I hear this meowing, and it was behind my car,” she recalled. “I froze. That thing backed off. I acted bigger than it, and I grabbed a shovel.”

The following day, Milushkina saw the same animal’s eyes peering from brush and trees in her backyard when she took her garbage out.

“He did not move,” she said. “It was scary. It was just really, really scary.”

Milushkina, 37, said she called Clark County Animal Control, and they reportedly told her to go inside.

She then called 911, and someone from the Clark County Sheriff’s Office showed up.

“They said it would be fine,” Milushkina said. “They said, ‘You have to act bigger than the animal. That scares them off.'”

Milushkina said she was concerned about the possible cougar being in her backyard, because she had heard about Diana Bober, a Gresham, Oregon, hiker found dead in Oregon’s Mt. Hood National Forest on Sept. 10, the victim of a suspected cougar attack.

Milushkina said the mystery animal broke through the plastic mesh fence in her backyard.

“I grabbed a flashlight and shovel, and said, ‘Come here, kitty kitty,'” she said. “Then I started screaming, because I got scared and ran inside.”

Milushkina contacted the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) on Monday, Nov. 5, and Officer Thomas Moats showed up at her house that same day. He has since installed a trail camera on a tree in the area where Milushkina saw the possible cougar.

“Cougars are more afraid of you than you are of them,” Moats told Milushkina during his visit on Monday.

She first described the animal as being approximately 150 pounds and having a medium-size tail, round ears and spots, and said she usually sees it in her backyard at night.

“It’s hunting,” Milushkina told Moats, as they stood outside the rental home she has lived in near mile marker 8, off Washougal River Road, for three years. Moats told her he has not received any other reports of cougars in that area.

After looking at a WDFW brochure that included photos of cougars, Milushkina pointed to an image of a juvenile cougar with spots.

Moats said young cougars can weigh 40 pounds.

“It would be weird for it to be here every night,” he said.

Moats later said of all of the cougar-related calls he receives in Clark County, at least one-half of them turn out to involve cougars. The other half are determined to involve other animals, such as bobcats.

Moats, who has worked for the WDFW for 21 years, including 16 years in enforcement, said cougars generally have a 35- to 65-mile territory, and once they are seen by a person, the cougars are generally not seen again.

“A cougar is looking to kill deer or elk,” he said.

Moats said a common bobcat, which has spots and weighs approximately 30 pounds, is not dangerous to humans. Bobcats can attack smaller animals, however, including small dogs.

Todd Jacobsen, a WDFW wildlife conflict specialist for the region that includes Klickitat, Skamania, and Clark counties, said cougar sightings are extremely difficult to verify and confirm.

“Lately, we have received several reports around the region — at least 10 or more — that have turned out to be either domestic house cats or domestic dogs,” he said. “Other animals that commonly get mistaken for cougars include coyotes and bobcats.”

Jacobsen said reports of cougars in the Camas-Washougal area have been very infrequent. According to his records, there were two reported, unconfirmed, cougar sightings east of Washougal in July, including one in the Steigerwald National Wildlife Refuge.

Another unconfirmed cougar sighting occurred in East Vancouver, near the intersection of state Route 14 and Southeast 164th Avenue, in June.

Jacobsen said two cougar attacks on livestock were reported north of Washougal River Road, approximately 5.5 miles apart, in mid-July and in early August, and the individual cougars were euthanized.

In one of the instances, a cougar attacked and killed three pigs. In the second, a different cougar attacked and killed two goats and one sheep over two consecutive nights.

Cougar sightings have been reported this year in the Battle Ground and La Center areas, as well as in eastern Skamania and west-central Klickitat counties.

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officials will present information about cougar biology, living with wildlife, how and when to report cougar sightings, and reducing the potential for human and livestock conflicts with cougars during a public meeting at 6:30 p.m., Monday, Nov. 19,  in the WDFW Region 5 Office, 5525 S. 11th St., Ridgefield.

Jacobsen said the WDFW encourages the public to report cougar sightings when they occur around residences in suburban and urban areas, as well as repeated sightings in a particular area, and any cougar encounters that are a public safety issue. Emergency dangerous wildlife complaints can be called in to 911, and non-emergency dangerous wildlife complaints can be made to the WDFW enforcement dispatch at 877-933-9847.

For more information about living with wildlife, visit wdfw.wa.gov/living/dangerous/. Information about reducing cougar-livestock conflicts is available at mountainlion.org/portalprotect.asp.