Cougar sighting causes stir as semester commences

Illustration by Seth Moriarty

Many Lewis & Clark students were alarmed upon returning to school, as posters have been put up around green areas on campus warning of recent cougar sightings in the area. While cougars are normally reclusive animals and rarely seen in urban environments, it is still possible for them to wander into more developed areas. 

Part of LC’s appeal to prospective and current students is its natural environment. The school is surrounded by lush evergreen forests despite being located within Portland city limits. 

“Out of an abundance of caution, we sent the message to the community and posted the signage after receiving two reports of sightings in August,” Director of Public Relations Roy Kaufmann said. “An additional unverified report was made earlier this month at the graduate campus. It is unknown whether the sightings were of the same lone cat.”

 Kaufmann also confirmed that cougars have not caused any property damage on or around campus.

“One of the aspects of living and learning in a forested campus surrounded by nature is the interaction with wildlife,” Kaufmann said. “It’s more useful to be aware than to be worried.”

 The signs around campus were posted according to protocol put in place by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). 

“Facilities Services staff put up the signs for the cougar sightings,” said Jay Jording, Manager of Facilities Support Services.

One sign located on the path leading from LC’s law campus into Tryon Creek State Natural Area warns that cougars have been seen in the area as recently as Sept. 5. The signs’ top three guidelines in the event of a cougar encounter are to stop, stay calm and appear large. They also state, “Face the cougar and do not turn your back towards it. Do not run. Running encourages it to chase.”

According to the ODFW website, “Oregon is home to more than 6,000 cougars.” However, “sightings and encounters are rare.” It also states, “if in the very unusual event that a cougar attacks you, fight back with rocks, sticks, bear or pepper spray, tools or any items available.”

Many LC students were concerned by these sightings. One of the main reasons that Bria McHugh ’21 enrolled at LC was the belief that it was a relatively safe campus.

“I never thought cougars would be on campus, and honestly, it makes me feel very unsafe,” McHugh said. 

Additionally, McHugh said she does not feel prepared to deal with a cougar encounter.

 “I just feel like it’s very unsettling to know that there’s that kind of danger that’s out of everyone’s hands,” McHugh said. “At the end of the day, if a cougar tried to attack you, it would.”

Other LC students, such as Amelia Rogers ’21, met reports of local cougars with skepticism.

 “I don’t think that there are cougars on campus,” Rogers said. “I know that there is often displaced wildlife, but the possibility of it coming that close to buildings, lights and people is very unlikely.”

In the event of a cougar sighting, you can reach Campus Safety at 503-768-7777.

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