Jeff Summit hasn’t seen any cougars during the almost eight years he’s been a state Fish and Wildlife officer, working primarily in the Gig Harbor area.
In fact, he’s never seen a cougar, period.
“And I’ve been out in the woods all my life,” he said.
But he gets reports when residents spot one — or think they have.
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A cougar killed a horse Feb. 3 in the Port Orchard area, which got Key Peninsula- and Gig Harbor-area residents talking about the animals. Summit said officers weren’t able to catch the cat responsible for the attack.
He spoke to The News Tribune about how the department deals with cougars, and he described their habits.
Q: How many reports of cougar sightings do you get?
A: I can’t tell you whether it’s five or 10, 12, 15 a year. It just varies. This year doesn’t seem anything out of the ordinary. Once it starts getting out and people know there’s a cougar around, every dog in the bushes is a cougar.
From what I can tell from the beginning of the year until now, we’ve had seven confirmed sightings from Port Orchard to Gig Harbor.
Q: Where can people report those sightings?
A: They can call our dispatch in Olympia, Monday through Friday, 8 to 5. They can also call 911 if they’re really concerned and have an attack.
Q: Ever had a person attacked by one?
A: No. They’re certainly not looking for people. They’re not looking for dogs. Their main prey is going to be deer. Many times a dog will actually initiate a fight.
Q: How about other animals attacked, such as the horse in Port Orchard?
A: I don’t recall any in my recent memory.
Q: What can people do to protect their animals?
A: If you have concerns, you could kennel them at night. Between dusk and dawn is when cougars are going to be moving.
Q: Are you worried about the reports so far this year?
A: It’s not concerning to have sightings. There’s a lot of woods we’re talking about. It’s not a densely packed area for cougars. It’s not like we have cougars on top of other cougars like in areas on the east side of the state.
Q: What do you do when you get a report?
A: If they’re just reporting a cougar sighting, there’s really not a lot we can do. We will change our tactics when it kills an animal. They did set up a trap (unsuccessfully) on the (Port Orchard) one.
Q: What’s the trick to tracking cougars?
We need to know immediately if you have an animal killed. They will come back to the animals they’ve killed and have cached. These cougars have from a 50- to 150-square-mile radius.
They have just such a huge range, which is pretty amazing when you think about a deer, which can live its life in an area of one square mile.
When we had a sighting Jan. 1 (in the Rosedale area), the next morning it was more than 6 miles away in eight hours.
Q: If you catch a cougar, is it killed or released elsewhere?
A: Typical practice: Once they’ve killed livestock or a person’s pet, they are euthanized.
Q: Anything else cougar-related that people should know?
A: It’s just not very likely that you’re going to run into one.