This winter begins like last with cougars on campus-

The cougars haven’t harmed anyone, but, of course, their presence on campus worries people.

The following announcement came over Idaho State University email Nov. 4.

Idaho Fish and Game officials have set a cougar trap on campus after a possible sighting Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 4.  The trap is set in the area of the sighting, above the jogging trail on Red Hill above Davis Field.  Public Safety is advising people to be careful in the secluded areas of campus between  Red Hill, the cemetery and other areas.

Any sightings should immediately be reported to ISU Public Safety at 282-2515.

Cougars were in other parts of Pocatello last winter.

Why?

I have a pretty good idea. If you travel to the Caribou National Forest and the BLM lands that directly adjoin the city, with the exception of a “beauty zone” along Mink Creek, these public lands have been increasing abused by livestock grazing. There is little for the deer to eat, they come into town (indeed they sleep next to my house) where there is some pretty good forage. Of course the cougars follow.

I am increasingly of the view that we need a major push at change on range on these public lands. If any friends in Pocatello, Chubbuck or Inkom want to help with bringing grazing under control on your public land please contact me. Ralph Mauighan rmaughan2@cableone.net

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About The Author

Ralph Maughan

Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University with specialties in natural resource politics, public opinion, interest groups, political parties, voting and elections. Aside from academic publications, he is author or co-author of three hiking/backpacking guides, and he is President of the Western Watersheds Project.

30 Responses to A cougar again on Idaho State University campus (Pocatello, ID)

  1. avatar Alan Gregory says:

    In all my family’s years of living on Forsythia St. above the campus in early 70s, I never even considered the notion of a cougar in the area.

  2. avatar Jon Way says:

    Just leave the cat alone. It is doing what it does naturally. Removing that cat will open up a territory for a new one. Prevention/education instead of trapping should be the goal. An urban environment is still a habitat/ecosystem that can have a range of animals living in it, incl. mt. lions.

  3. Alan,

    There have been an occasional cougar for years in the Johnny Creek area, the Mink Creek area, and the Blackrock area. As you well know, they are all directly adjacent to the mountains and public land.

    The has been a big buildup of homes, and business on the east foothills beneath Chinese Mountain (formerly Chinks Peak) and a lot of development up Pocatello Creek and behind Camelback Mountain. This latter development has in some ways improved wildlife habitat, especially for moose, with the removal of cattle.

    However, obviously Idaho State University has always been in the same place, on the downtown side of the Interstate highway. Having cougar near Red Hill on campus is hard to explain by pointing to development up into the mountains.

    I think it is due to the lack of forage on the BLM and National Forest lands. In recent years the trend is down in the condition of grazed lands on what was the Pocatello Ranger District (now called the Westside Range District). They had been improving, but the range con was fired (I think, but don’t know) after he opposed one (or some) of the permittees. My view is there are more and more deer on the city fringes, including long established fringes.

    There seems to be increased public interest in controlling the grazing because of the huge recreational use of these public lands and the fact that this year cattle trespassed into the West Mink Creek city watershed at least 3 times. The West Fork of Mink Creek has not been grazed for maybe 60 years or more from my understanding. It, and Gibson Jack Creek are an amazing rarity in SE Idaho — low elevation mountains with water that are not grazed.

    The public is not organized on the grazing issue. They need to be.

    Photos from Google Earth.

    Pocatello today from City Creek to the NE.

    New houses on top of the East Bench looking W by SW toward Kinport Peak.

    Development behind (east of) Camelback Mountain
    .

    New development on top of the mountain north of Pocatello Creek road.

    Red Hill on campus around which cougars have hung out last winter and maybe this ohe.

    At the base of Red Hill on campus.

    The backside (east side) of Red Hill. Very gentle with an interstate highway (unseen) just beyond the fence.

  4. avatar Jon Way says:

    Hi Ralph,
    What if there is already a cougar up in the mountains and this cougar is on campus b.c other cougars aren’t there (available territory) and there is plenty of food (deer). A lot of humans tend to think of behavior such as this as abarrent/strange but when you think of it, everything makes sense except for the fact that a lot of people live there.
    The eastern coywolf (or coyote) lives in all of New England including similar habitats as college campus/suburban areas. It is perfect habitat – but still, some people can’t get over the fact that they are in “my” backyard.
    Just playing devil’s advocate… but if we except these visits and possible home range establishments by large carnivores (and properly take precautions to be safe from them), that opens up much available habitat for wolves, lions, bears, etc…

  5. Jon Way,

    The trouble with cougars on Red Hill specifically are 1. children play on the hill because married student housing is just behind the hill and 2. there are a lot of joggers, a well know attractor of cougar interest.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if cougars wander through my own neighborhood. Coyotes do every so often. They reduce the feral population of felis domesticus.

    The folks on corner seem to be running a feral cat introduction program. It gets reduced from time-to-time. 😉

  6. avatar jimbob says:

    Ralph,
    I agree with your assessment of the problem and solution. Unfortunately, history tells us that the game and fish agencies and local politicians that “control” both deer and cougars will react in the same way: Rationalize that there are “too many cougars” and insist that cougar quotas and hunt opportunities be increased. Any cougar spotted near people anywhere will be killed–it will be considered acting strangely. Deer and elk hunters will rally and say that because there are so many cougars, hunting opportunities are being reduced. (Even though there are no in-city hunting opportunities for deer) This scenario has played itself out many times before, especially here in Arizona. I probably don’t need to tell you that, though!

  7. avatar vickif says:

    I may sound nuts, but have they ever tried having dogs urinate in various locations that may deter wondering cats? Maybe even wolf or bear urine?

  8. avatar vickif says:

    )I am not suggesting walking bears of wolves and letting them deficate…but maybe getting scent from captive populations)

  9. avatar Save bears says:

    Why do that Vicki, you can buy just about any kind of scent you might need at a sporting goods store, they sell all kinds of flavors….

  10. avatar vickif says:

    would it have any chance at being a deterrent? I know you can buy all flavors of musk-ungulate, but had no idea you could get wolf! That is a new one to me. I guess there really is a market for everything.

  11. avatar vickif says:

    I do know when (in the past) I decided to help keep cougars from falling victim to hunters with dogs (unfair in my book-not interested in arguing it with anyone), we’ve pee’d on trees, had our dogs pee everywhere we knew the hounds were headed…seemed to have worked. Or it could be the cats thought “what a bunch of invasive nuts cases, I better leave for a while.”
    But if pee’ing on trees could help the cats avoid kids….I say let the yellow flow.

  12. avatar Save bears says:

    I have also been in home and ranch stores that sell various scents for deterrents, you might be able to find something in one of those as well

  13. avatar Scott MacButch says:

    Having hiked and mountain biked up West Mink Creek for over 25 years, I can attest to the fact that you can pretty much count on cows trespassing into West Mink just before Labor Day every year. I got the range rider’s cell phone number, and when I spot them during the summer I give the guy a call. He always asks what color and/or number is on the ear tag, and if it is one of the cows he is responsible for, he gets right after them, other wise they get to them eventually.

    The cows getting in around Labor Day are a different story, as no matter how many times I call, nothing gets done, because they use the excuse, that by mid September they round them all up and get them off the public lands anyway. As I mentioned, this has gone on for decades, and I’m sure they realize the cows add weight by grazing for nearly a month on the lush forage in West Mink and nothing ever gets done as they just put it off until the big round up right before hunting season.

    What I don’t understand is why they don’t put in a more substantial fence that would keep the cows out, as opposed to the flimsy fence they have that the cows just bowl over at the end of the summer when the forage is poor and they are thirsty.

    The “gitmo prison” type of fence that was installed on the ridge just to the north of Kinney Cr would certainly do the job. It still is low enough for deer to jump over it and would be much better than the lame fence they currently have protecting the West Fork of Mink Cr, which truely is an outstanding resource to have so close to a medium sized city and deserves much better than this.

  14. Scott,

    I wrote to the ranger district’s range con the other day about a better fence and a cattle guard instead of a gate for the new trail in the area some call “Chimney Creek.”

    No response.

  15. avatar Devin says:

    Ralph,
    I plan on hanging out on the Red Hill trail with my camera and telephoto. If I get any pics I’ll let you know. Sure would have been cool to capture footage of the cougar last summer chasing the deer thru campus.

    I think there is a major problem in this area as you have stated. Cattle grazing is out of hand in this area. As a nature photographer I often head up to the Mink Creek area and I see the dramatic overgrazing that is occuring.

    Some say that the cougars should be allowed to roam in peace but I don’t think they understand the area of Red Hill and its vicinity to the Ridgecrest housing area. As deplorable as conditions have become, as long as the cat isn’t killed, I think it has to be moved, both for the sake of human safety and the cat’s safety. If the cat is left to roam in the area there is a risk of an attack on a human (God forbid a child). If said attacked occurred there would be no way that animal would be allowed to live.

    Cheers all 🙂

  16. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    Cougars really do prefer to eat deer. I have to side with Jon Way. . . and though I don’t know the area you are talking about I do know that cougars come through the area I live in because I see their tracks once in a while. . as long as know one sees them they are safe. No pets go missing, no children get scared, no joggers get jumped on, but the deer start moving which they need to do. . as long as no one leaves their kids out at night and the deer are plentiful everything is OK. But, as soon as someone thinks there is a cat in the area the hysteria comes out. It is actually quite funny at times that we have bear, cats and coyotes right down town and as long as they stay hidden . . nobody knows, nobody bothers them and nothing gets hurt except that the deer population stabilizes. Shhhh . . don’t tell anyone but they have been there for a long time.

  17. avatar JEFF E says:

    I go to work every morning at 3:30-4:00 am, from one end of the treasure valley right through town to the other end and see Fox, Coyotes, deer, raccoons, once two bobcats, and once a cow elk. there are also fairly regular reports of cougar and the rare black bear.
    And then the sun comes up and nobody is the wiser.

  18. avatar Jon Way says:

    Jeff E and Linda,
    that is my point indeed. Thanks for your comments. I think the threat of a mt. lion is way overblown. I am sure they are regularly there and are only seen as a danger when they are observed. The threat of them attacking, although potential, is greatly overblown, and I bet statistically the effort of folks driving to the site and trying to trap them is statistically more dangerous (eg, car accident on way there) then the lion(s) is by being there.
    Learning to live with them, even in urban areas, will help minimize confrontations and allow them to live in more places. Most people react knee-jerk and don’t realize that there drive home from work is much more dangerous statistically than a lion on campus near where they live.

  19. avatar vickif says:

    Most certainly people who move close to, or within habitat are better off learning behaviors of animals. Being educated is empowerment. Always, we should attempt to spare nature the wrath of man, especially when the animal was just doing what it does naturally.
    The problem is that animals, like man, are oftn unpredictable. Keeping in mind that sometimes the best of precaution cannot prevent tragedies, we’d be better off finding ways to deter cats from wandering neighborhoods. Like any animal, the more it chances upon humans, the greater the number of incidents resulting in harm and death to both man, and animal.
    The deer may be fun to watch, and it is sad that they have needed to wander into inhabited areas….but what we need to do is disuade the deer, or create a less inviting environment. When you decrease a predator’s prey base, they tend to move on, do they not?
    I agree potential is low, but the circumstances here, and the conditions of prey and predator and number of people, increase the potential. For the cat’s sake, better safe than sorry….maybe some night time patrols to haze it(cats, bears, coyotes) away would be a better risk than just assuming people will keep kids inside. After all, are rarely that easy to keep under control.

  20. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    VickiF . . the only good way convince the deer and their pray to leave town it is to make it more appetizing to be in the backcountry and we can’t do that until we move the grazing farm animals into town instead (picture cattle grazing in suburban gardens) so that more food will be available to them in the natural areas. Increasing natural food in the wild country will be hard because all the fertile valleys have now become neighborhoods with delicious rose bushes, pears, apples, nuts, herbs, gardens, apricots, etc etc. I was just walking around in Seattle this weekend and observed enough food in the neighborhoods to feed huge herds of deer, elk and bear, while up at the 2,000 ft level it is already bare sticks and skiffs of snow. If you were a hungry animal and all you had to do is feed at night and stay of out sight what would you do?

  21. avatar Salle says:

    People around Pocatello have a cougar sighting regularly~once every six months to a year. In the Johnny Creek area there have been pets missing and usually the cats end up losing big time.

    One of the problems is the grazing in the hill country around the valley but also the unfettered expansion of housing in the outlying areas up all the hillsides and beyond. I lived there several years ago, for twelve years, and this was the scenario even then.

    Pocatello’s ISU campus is situated on a slope that was once surrounded by open space further up the slope but is now, with recent expansion of campus housing and facilities that have now taken up much of what was once sagebrush hills below mountains. Wildlife have little choice but to venture into these areas. Yes, there are areas in the back country but these are more frequented by humans and their housing and off-road vehicles giving little low elevation locations to go and fewer food options.

    Encroachment is what created this problem and it isn’t likely to end favorably for the wildlife since humans and their pets’ lives are to be saved at all costs while the wildlife is expendable, until it’s gone.

    Specie-centrism anyone?

  22. avatar vickif says:

    LInda Hunter,
    I am aware that the problem is huge, and lies predominently around grazing and gardening. However, those facts will do little to comfort people who lose a child, or even a pet. Regardless of where blame lies for animals being in towns, or people encroaching, if a cougar kills a human, the only blame that will be recognizable will lie with the cougar.
    It isn’t right, you and I both know that. But it is a simple fact that if an animal kills in a city, or even on a trail outside of town, etc. few will care about what circumstances promopted the animal to do it…all attention will become about how to exterminate the animal.
    Maybe what needs to happen is a requirement of fencing at a certain height around gardens. Or the unlitmate righting of a wrong, end the grazing of cattle on public lands.
    Until that happens though, the cougar needs to be disuaded for it’s own good.
    The urbanization of deer back east is a huge deal, just like the elk in Estes Park, Colorado. People thinking they are cute and fuzzy is all well, until the price of auto insurance in those towns sky rockets due to auto vs. animal accidents. Or some one is gored, or bears begin breaking into kitchens, etc. You will not likely remove people from these areas, so we have got to start giving animals back their instinctual fear of man.
    No matter what, human safety will always be the general public’s first concern.
    Until we get things a bit more balanced and favorable for the animals, we owe it to them to scare them away from us.

  23. avatar vickif says:

    Please keep in mind, as Ralph ointed out above, cougars are attracted to joggers and children. They don’t always differentiate between derr and people. Given the fact that they have to come into town to find food, I’d say that would make them more likely to eat whatever they could…they are obviously already in need of food, and prey is a matter of opportunity in dire times.

  24. avatar Alan Gregory says:

    The problem with mt. lion habitat in Idaho is somewhat akin to that of white-tailed deer habitat here in Pennsylvania: The loss and fragmentation of same through human activities.

  25. avatar TC says:

    Alan,

    WTD numbers are at all-time highs in many Eastern and Southern states because they THRIVE on habitat fragmentation – they are an edge species and more fragmentation = more edge habitat. They also do quite well living with humans, especially in agricultural and suburban settings, versus their relatives mule deer. In fact, in some Eastern and Southern states there are many localized areas with problems controlling their deer herds, with resultant losses in localized animal and plant biodiversity. Not quite the same as fragmentation of habitats that support many Western species, especially those that need migration corridors to get from summer to winter ranges and that are experiencing significant development (human development and energy development) on winter ranges.

  26. Regarding Pocatello, I don’t think habitat fragmentation is the reason there are cougar in the city.

    They are present because there are deer. There is good forage for deer, but a lot of them get hit by vehicles.

    My observation is the adjacent public lands are increasing overgrazed, making the city desirable, although elk are hit the hardest by the overgrazing.

  27. avatar Linda Hunter says:

    I guess you would call me an optimistic futurist. I understand very well the current situation with people and if a cougar kills just one child you are correct, there will be mass exterminations. I am always trying to think of solutions, as there are plenty of people who are good at verbalizing the problems. I firmly believe that people CAN live with wildlife safely in any environment. . but not as people are now. And how did people lose their knowledge of co-existence with animals? I believe they can gain new understandings in the exact same way. . through media, literature, peer example and education. When you want something to change, you have to be persistent, slowly win support and consensus and then go from there. So, I feel that if people want to use the public lands for grazing, and put all the good edible things for animals around their houses, they need to learn to live with animals. The alternative, which is to only have cows to look at for any future generations, is something that I know we can avoid. It just takes a start. I started by learning all I could about animals myself (and continue to learn) and now I am totally comfortable to live around any animal except humans. I am working on that one.

  28. avatar Rewilding says:

    I remember a Mt. Lion paper that came out around when the school was constructed which reported humans ranging into their territory.

    Much the same discussion took place among the Mt Lions: we should pee on everything and maybe the humans will go away; try not to be attracted to humans running on our game trails; please don’t eat their dogs, etc.

  29. avatar cobra says:

    Did anyone hear what age they thought the cat might be? Sometimes around here and where I lived in colorado the younger cats caused the most problems. Seems they were just out trying to sow a few oats and find their own little peice of paradise. Remembe when you were a teenager?

  30. avatar SmalltownID says:

    There is always something that can be found to b-tch and moan about. I am all for protecting our lands. Poky residents are pretty lucky when it comes to the condition of there lands surrounding it thoguh. My brother and I both bagged deer with our bows within eyesight of Pocatello and I shot my elk not much further. Not that that is a measure of the quality of the lands, but comparatively speaking as has been pointed out with the Gibson Jack and Mink Creek anomaly, it could be worse.

    I would argue the bigger effect has been the fire that started in black rock canyon and scorched everything to the east about 6 years ago (I believe) that really hurt the foothills. This is the corridor that the Mountain lion are coming from no doubt. Chinks is a pretty impressive mountain on the back side despite the blackrock roads coming up the back side. The cattle have not helped the land repair itself no doubt and is really desolate covered in cheat grass. The sheer numbers of cattle though are really low compared to most other public lands in Idaho. From what I understand there was no proactive effort to repair these lands after the fire and they are in no better shape than immediately following it.

    I also don’t think it is really pushing lions into the city. I haven’t been here for that long but I know it has been commonplace for sportsmen to see lions between AMI and the interstate in the last ten years. College campus’ have become much more efficient about disseminating information regarding safety issues due to our litigous society.

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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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