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Another Cougar Kill
Fourth cat put down

A healthy 130-pound male cougar was treed and shot yesterday (Jan. 10) after the big cat killed a sheep on Deer Way Loop, up the east Chewuch, according to Cal Treser, wildlife officer for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. It was the fourth cougar to be killed in the upper Methow Valley in the last month.

photoThese cougar tracks were photographed in late December in the Wolf Creek Views neighborhood outside Winthrop. Photo by Kristen Webb

“The cougar was tracked for several hours up into the wildlife area where dogs were put on the track to tree the cougar,” Treser said of the latest incident. “The cougar was eventually treed and dispatched.”

“The cougar was living on the edge of the Methow Wildlife area with plenty of mule deer for food,” Treser added. “Why it chose to kill a sheep is one I cannot answer. Maybe because the kill was easy as the sheep were confined in a corral.” The sheep belonged to Lew Holston of Winthrop.

“We normally have numerous cougar sightings during winter, but not this many depredation incidents,” Treser told Methow Grist. “The last time we had this many was during the period of 1999 to 2003.”

Treser said his best guess is that we have a healthy cougar population and that the mild winter is providing better wintering conditions for local deer. “Of course, deer attract large carnivores,” he added. He also said cougar harvest levels are down because hunters can’t use hounds to hunt cougars.

Another cougar in the Twin Lakes development outside Winthrop also has been reported, which is “very common,” according to Treser. “We normally have a cougar on Patterson mountain that wanders down into Twin Lakes because of the high population of resident deer in that area. That is the reason we request that people do not feed the deer,” he continued.

Feeding deer concentrates them and attracts predators,” Treser said. “It also can spread disease within the [deer] population.”

“We can never be sure why a cougar kills livestock or pets,” Treser explained. “Even with plenty of wildlife around for them to feed on, they still occasionally take pets and livestock. Maybe it's just the nature of a cat. If something runs, they chase it.”

A cougar that killed two pet goats on a farm just west of Winthrop was tracked to the Big Valley Ranch and put down by wildlife officials on Tuesday (Jan. 7).

That cat was an older, underweight female with ground-down teeth, according to Kjell Lester, a member of the tracking team who said the cougar obviously was having trouble feeding herself.

photoThe cougar tracks that Joyce Bergen found near their place on Studhorse Mountain January 10 led toward their door, where they faded in the light snow. Photo by Joyce Bergen

Skip and Betsy Devin-Smith, who own and operate BCS Livestock, owned the goats, which were in a pen near Highway 20 with their sheep. Early one morning more than a month ago, a state Department of Transportation worker dropped by and said there was a cougar hanging around their sheep, Devin-Smith said.

“That cougar could have been there for years,” she added. “We try to live with the predators with the guard dog and the fence, but sometimes they interface” and in this case the cat “was habituating on our livestock.”

Devin-Smith said the night the first goat was killed, her husband jumped out of bed when he heard the guard dog barking and went out to find the cougar standing by the dead goat, which had been raised as a pet and was very friendly. The cat ran off and efforts to trap it were unsuccessful.

Nine days later, the cat returned and killed the second goat, she said, adding that this goat was “really depressed after the first one died” and was sleeping by itself away from the sheep at the time it was attacked.

The guard dog was in another pen next to the sheep instead of in the pen with them, because this is breeding time and the ram was in with the ewes, she explained. If the dog hadn’t been separated, she speculates that the cougar would likely have killed him. The cougar was tracked along the river to a spot where it went uphill, then down to Big Valley.

Devin-Smith said speculation is that the lack of snow is allowing the deer that cougars usually depend on for food to get around better, thus robbing cats like this aging female of their typical food source.

Lester said it’s not known, but is possible, that the cougar killed Jan. 7 was the one that has been in Winthrop and seen on Wolf Creek Road. However, Joyce Bergen, who lives above Winthrop on Studhorse Mountain reports there were cougar tracks near their place Friday morning (Jan. 10).

In December a two-year-old male cougar was tracked and killed after it attacked a dog and killed chickens at a home up the Twisp River Road. Wildlife officers also tracked and killed a year-old male cougar that killed a dog on Christmas night near the Twisp-Carlton Road.

Karen West

Have a comment?

Thank you for this informative article. It would be helpful to know the size of the prints in the snow. How large are cougar feet as compared to Bobcat feet? How can you distinguish the tracks? Thanks!

Kathryn Joy Heim


(Link to a Michigan Department of Natural Resources webpage distinquishing cougar, coyote and bobcat tracks. staff),4570,7-153-10370_12145_43573-146656--,00.html

Tom K


Dispatched, such a clean and tiddy word for killed. Well here's a word for Cal Treser, conservation!

Jae Cremin