Southern Oregon University and the city of Ashland are working with state and federal wildlife officials to ensure safety on the SOU campus and in the community following multiple cougar sightings and confrontations Sunday night and this morning.
The Ashland Police Department will respond promptly to future cougar sightings, with officers’ actions based on immediate danger to humans or domesticated animals. Factors may include whether the sightings occur at night or during the day, when the animals aren’t typically seen.
Students leaving SOU’s Hannon Library at about 10:30 p.m. Sunday reported seeing a cougar. Ashland Police and SOU Campus Public Safety officers responded and were able to scare away a small cougar they found just outside the library.
A larger cougar was then located outside the nearby Susanne Homes building, and it reacted menacingly to the officers’ attempts to scare it away. The Ashland Police officers got authorization from Chief Tighe O’Meara and fired a shot at the cougar after ensuring the shot would not endanger anyone. The cougar apparently was not hit and ran from the area. However, another resident reported being confronted by a cougar on the SOU campus at about 6:15 a.m. today.
“Our university and community have deep respect for the wildlife with which we share this beautiful region,” SOU President Linda Schott said. “We balance that respect with our obligation to provide a safe campus environment, and we are grateful to be addressing this safety concern in partnership with the city as well as state and federal partners.”
An Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife officer confirmed during a meeting today with city and university representatives that the actions of the cougar outside Susanne Homes on Sunday night justified the shot being fired by police. A trapper from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also attended the meeting and said traps could be set near confirmed cougar sighting areas, but results are not typically positive in urban areas.
The sightings Sunday night and this morning follow a rash of reports over the past week of cougars close to downtown Ashland, near the downtown fire station and the Safeway Store, and in Lithia Park. There have been multiple reports in recent weeks of deer being killed by cougars in Ashland’s neighborhoods.
Ashland Police and SOU’s Campus Public Safety recommend walking with other people and being aware of your surroundings when outdoors at night. If confronted by a cougar, make yourself look large, yell and back away slowly – but do not run.