HAILEY — When people and their pets live in close proximity to wildlife, everyone needs to be vigilant and aware of their surroundings.
Reports of mountain lions in the Wood River Valley continue to come in, almost daily, to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Most reports involve cougars moving through neighborhoods or sightings of the predators in yards. We also receive reports of cats recorded on security cameras. Since Dec. 14, these reports have also included reports of five attacks on dogs — three of them fatal — in the valley.
Understandably, residents and visitors are on edge. Fish and Game managers share their concerns and are actively working to understand the current situation and to provide safety tips and suggestions to those who live close to lions.
Elk and deer populations are healthy in the Wood River Valley. Most residents appreciate seeing these animals in the area. Their abundant herds, however, bring unintended consequences since they are also the natural prey base for mountain lions.
Mountain lions have been residents of the Wood River Valley long before human settlement in the area. Most residents, even those who have lived there for many years, have never observed one up close. Now, however, plenty of valley dwellers are witnessing these secretive cats as they pass through their neighborhoods. Some reports include sightings of lions during daylight hours, which is not typical behavior.
Wildlife managers agree that if a person is in close proximity to a lion, meaning they see it, they should do the following:
- Never run away from a mountain lion. The lion’s instinct is to chase and ultimately catch what they perceive as potential prey.
- Never turn your back on a lion. Always face them while making yourself look as large as you can. Yell loudly, but don’t scream. A high-pitched scream may mimic the sound of a wounded animal.
- Slowly back away while maintaining eye contact with the lion.
- Carry safety equipment such as bear spray, a noise device such as an air-horn, and if you walk in the dark, a very bright flashlight.
- If you are attacked, fight back!
Remember to use all of your senses to detect if a mountain lion is near. Using a light to help you see your surroundings is very important, both in your yard or as you walk in your neighborhood. If you regularly run or bike, use caution when wearing headphones, which might compromise your ability to hear if a lion, or any other wildlife, is signaling that you’re too close.
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Mountain lions are opportunistic predators, meaning they don’t know when their next meal will be, and will often attempt to take prey when it presents itself. A lion may perceive a pet as prey. To keep pets safe, owners are strongly encouraged to follow these safety tips:
- Keep your pets on a leash.
- Observe your pets’ behavior, since they may sense the lion before you can actually see them.
- Do not feed your pet outside or leave their food dishes outside. The mountain lion will not typically be attracted by the food, but the food could attract other wildlife that could serve as prey.
- Before letting your pets outside, turn on lights, make noise and look to ensure the yard is clear of wildlife. Do not assume that a privacy fence will keep a mountain lion out of your yard.
- Accompany your pet outside, if possible.
By nature, mountain lions are shy and will make every effort to avoid contact with humans. Over the last several months, it appears that some lions have become more accustomed to living near Wood River Valley towns and neighborhoods. Homeowners can do several things to make it less likely that a mountain lion passes through or take up residence near their homes and neighborhoods.
These preventative measures include the following:
- When leaving your house, closely observe your surroundings. Look and listen for signs of wildlife near your house.
- Never feed wildlife. Elk and deer are the preferred prey for mountain lions. Unnaturally feeding elk and deer will bring in predators to the feed site.
- Strongly encourage your neighbors to not feed elk and deer. To effectively keep predators out of neighborhoods, everyone must do their part.
- Do not leave your household garbage outside and unsecured. As with pet food, the garbage will not typically attract a mountain lion, but it might attract other wildlife that would be considered prey by a lion.
- Ensure that a lion cannot get under your patio or deck. These spaces can be a perfect location for a day bed.
- Place covers over window wells, which can also serve as prime locales for day beds.
- Install motion-sensor lights which may discourage wildlife from staying in your yard. Lights can be directed to minimize the impact on your neighbors.
Reporting mountain lion sightings and encounters
Wood River Valley residents and visitors should immediately report any encounter that results in an attack to the Magic Valley Regional Office at 208-324-4359 during business hours, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. If after hours, local conservation officers can be reached by calling the Citizens Against Poaching (CAP) hotline at 800-632-5999.
Reports can also be made to the Blaine County Sheriff at 208-788-5555.
Mountain lion sightings and observations should be reported to the Fish and Game, Magic Valley Regional Office at 208-324-4359.