HAILEY — Following a rash of cougar attacks on dogs in Bellevue and Hailey, hunters have killed two of the large cats, according to Idaho Department of Fish and Game.
“Cougars are part of the fabric of where we live,” said Lee Garwood, senior conservation officer for the department in Hailey. He said this year there have been more attacks on pets than are usually reported. “Generally we might have one encounter of some kind in a year.”
The incidents began about two weeks ago, with four attacks during a three-day span in the Broadford Road neighborhood near Bellevue. The addresses and identities of the dogs’ owners have not been released.
In the first case, a dog was let out of the house in the morning. Garwood surmises a cougar was passing by, and the two animals got into a confrontation.
On the same day, two dogs were roaming the neighborhood when, Garwood believes, they found a cougar. “These things will use a little snow cave under some heavy brush,” he said, describing where the dogs might have rousted the big cat.
Two days later, an incident similar to the first one took place, with dogs let out in the morning scuffling with a passing cougar. Just after dusk that day, in the fourth incident, an older dog was attacked by a cougar in what Garwood believes was an attempt to kill the dog as prey. The dog survived but was badly injured.
“The owner hit it off with rocks. By the next morning we didn’t have a decent set of tracks to track on,” he said, describing how Fish and Game was becoming concerned they were looking for a particularly dangerous cougar. “We thought we might have had one that was strictly targeting dogs.”
Examining tracks found near the neighborhood, Garwood said they were able to identify the area cougars as likely to be an adult male, and an adult female accompanied by a yearling cat.
On Saturday, hunters tracked and killed two cougars, an adult male of about 110 pounds, and an adult female of about 80 pounds, near Starweather Lane north of Hailey. Its unclear whether these are the same cats whose tracks were previously identified.
“It’s certainly not outside the realm that one of those could have been the ones, but it would be speculation on our part to say that it was,” Garwood said.
The killings were legal, as the cats were properly tagged during cougar hunting season, which runs until the end of March. However, one of the cats may have been killed too close to a residential neighborhood, violating county codes, said Garwood, who is investigating the hunt.
Garwood said it’s impossible to accurately estimate the number of cougars in Blaine County, but noted that males have individual territories of up to 400 square miles, and that five to seven cougars are killed by hunters each year.
In other Fish and Game news, there has been little elk or wolf activity in the area because the winter has been so mild, Garwood said, although he recently put up signs advising awareness of a moose and her calf in the Lake Creek area.