As in most cities, there are a multitude of critters that live in Portland. But most of them are the standard issue critter that makes its home in most American cities: squirrels, raccoons, rats, possums, and the like. (And yes, many type of birds.)
But over the years, animals not typically associated with “urban” have made their inroads into Portland and a lot of other places. Namely, coyotes. As wolves have been extirpated from much of North America, coyotes have come to fill the void left from their retreat. At first, coyotes stayed in more wild areas, then moved into the urban fringes. And now, they have moved into urban areas just like any other hipster. And why not? There are plenty of places to hide, and plenty of food. Coyote sightings in Portland, while not super common, are more and more typical. (Heck, I chased one down the road one dark winter morning.) And don’t just think that coyotes can only thrive in a city like Portland, with abundant natural areas and lots of detached single family houses: researchers estimate that there are two thousand coyotes living in metro Chicago. Two thousand.
But coyotes are a bit old hat. I’ve been waiting to see reports about even wilder, even bigger animals in Portland. Namely: bears and cougars. And over the last month, we got both.
The first was the bear on June 14. A 2 year old black bear was spotted in the vicinity of NE Killingsworth and 35th, about two miles from my house, early that morn. It was finally found in a tree, where someone from Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shot him with a tranquilizer gun, captured him, and released him in the wilds somewhere in the West Cascade Mountains. The bear was definitely the news of the day (and also warranted the creation of a twitter account in his name). No one knows exactly how it got into this residential neighborhood, but it’s just a mile from the Columbia Slough, with its wild areas interspersed with industrial could act as a wildlife corridor. (There was a reported sighting of a bear swimming in the Oregon Channel, an arm of the Columbia River between the Oregon mainland and Hayden Island, but that’s about 5 miles from where the bear was captured.) Still, I would have expected the first bear sighting to happen in an area like Forest Park, which seems like such prime bear habitat.
The cougar sighting, was much more interesting and played out. Over the course of the last week, there have been a few cougar sightings in East Portland, that big ol’ post-war suburban area of town stretching from about I-205 to the Gresham line. (This includes a cat suspected killed by the cougar.) Friday morning alone there were three sightings in the early hours of the day, all close to the I-84/I-205 junction. Then Friday afternoon, the cougar planted itself into a tree at the 2900 block of N.E. 121st Ave, as the occupants of the house were having their Fourth of July barbecue. The police and fire department were summoned, the neighborhood cordoned off, neighbors told to stay in their homes, and yep, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) came to tranquilize it and take it away.
This time, there’s a sadder ending: the ODFW decided to euthanize the cougar, for reasons of public safety. “It had become habituated to the city,” ODFW spokesperson Meg Kenagy said. “It had lost its fear of people…When cougars are seen during the day they have lost their fear of people.”
But I wonder: how many cougars are in the area? South of the area the cougar was sighted are natural areas like Powell Butte, which would make good cougar habitat. The map of this week’s cougar sightings, however, show a circle of sightings with Glendoveer Golf Course sort of in the center. So maybe it lived there? While a golf course is not as rustic as Powell Butte, it is pretty wooded so there are hiding places. While cougars are solitary animals with large ranges that rarely overlap, Portland is a big enough place that there could be more hiding out. But if there are, they probably keep a low profile unlike the hapless specimen found in the tree.
Now I just hope we get a marmot sighting like they do in San Francisco.