Mike Stead

Residents take lead against cougars

Fed up with the lack of predator control in the community, a pair of Port Hardy men took matters into their own hands this week.

PORT HARDY—Fed up with the lack of predator control in the community, a pair of Port Hardy men took matters into their own hands this week.

Two Eagle View Elementary School students walking home from school on a well-used trail last Tuesday were surprised when they heard a noise in the thick brush and looked to see a cougar dining on a domestic cat.

That led to a call to the school, a public announcement to students and parents and a phone-in to the Conservation Officer Service.

But, when the thick undergrowth along the trail remained untouched a week later, Jamie Harrison and Mike Stead arrived with a chain saw and truck to haul away branches, and made quick work of the salal, alders and other undergrowth that provides a ready hiding place for the big cats.

“We’re not trying to solve a cougar problem,” Harrison said. “We’re addressing a public safety issue. We just want to keep our kids safe.”

The men intended to eliminate the low brush next to the gravel trail and improve the sight line between the school and West Glacier Crescent. At the same time, they left some of the larger growth along a fence that borders the home of the resident next to the trail.

“We know we live in wildlife country. You just have to look over there to see the wild kingdom,” Harrison said, pointing to the nearby hillside. “But this is something that should be taken care of by the District (of Port Hardy). A lot of little kids use this trail.”

North Island Communities have been overrun by reports of both cougars and potential problem bears in recent weeks, including an aborted cougar attack on a Port McNeill couple and the shooting of what was believed to be the same cat a week later.

Local Conservation Officer Tanner Beck returned from a 10-day leave to find the first duty awaiting him the placement of a live trap for a problem bear in Port McNeill. And, just two days after the cougar sighting along the Eagle View trail, a black bear sow and cub were photographed crossing a sidewalk on school property.

But the cougars provide the biggest scare to local residents, and Beck is not surprised they’re being seen now.

“It’s almost an annual tradition,” he said. “They come in to eat the cats, because the cat population is too high. We remind people to keep their pets inside or otherwise in their sight.”

James Hilgemann, another Conservation Officer stationed in Black Creek, said the cougar’s normal prey is the Island’s Sitka blacktail deer. But even the deer have been drawn to communities in the past month, and the cougars may be following them in.

“In discussion with biologists, we’re hearing the (deer) population appears to be down a bit,” said Hilgemann, who noted the observation is not based on a scientific survey. “We’re not sure if it’s bears, wolves or cougars. And it may be because we’ve had so little rain this fall, the woods are dry and noisy.

“But in the bush around Campbell River and Comox, hunter success is down. If you want to see a big buck, come into Comox. The deer in town are bad.”