News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

Enjoy Central Oregon’s wildlife safely

Central Oregon is full of wonderful wilderness areas and has some of the most spectacular hiking areas in the country. But any wilderness adventure carries with it some degree of risk. The best way to reduce risks is to plan ahead and be prepared. Be aware of your surroundings, of others and the wildlife that roams the wilderness areas. From large mammals like bears and cougars to tiny hummingbirds and butterflies, the diversity of wildlife in Central Oregon is amazing and something to celebrate, with caution.

Today people and wildlife often find themselves living in the same area, as the human population grows and pushes further out into the hinterlands. When wildlife habitat, food and water resources start to disappear, animals often look for food and nest sites around homes and garages.

Mule deer and elk are abundant in Oregon’s forests and for the most part are likely wary of people. The exception is when they get used to humans feeding them and begin to feel entitled to whatever treats you may have in your pocket.

There is a substantial deer population in Sisters Country, and that includes inside the city limits of Sisters itself. The urban area provides a relatively safe haven from predators and is an attractive source of food for deer.

When deer become habituated to the presence of humans, they lose their natural wariness of humans. Although deer may look cute and harmless, they can become aggressive to people and dogs.

A couple of years ago the City of Sisters passed an ordinance making it illegal to feed mule deer anywhere within the city limits. Their growing numbers in town could attract their chief predator, the cougar, which no one wants in their backyard.

Natives of Oregon, cougars roam the mountains, deserts, and lower elevations of Central Oregon and range all over the state. Cougars are most active from dusk to dawn, but it is not unusual for cougars to hunt any time during the day. Adult cougars typically prey on deer, elk, moose, mountain goats, and wild sheep, with deer being the preferred and most common prey. Other prey species, especially for younger cougars, include raccoons, coyotes, rabbits, hares, small rodents, and occasionally pets and livestock.

On the slim chance you do encounter a cougar, Sisters resident and naturalist Jim Anderson gives this advice:

“Never lose eye contact. Never try to outrun a cougar, either on foot or bike. That only brings on the chase response. And if you meet one head-on keep eye contact, shout at the animal and raise your arms over your head. If on a bike, dismount and slowly retreat, keeping the bike between you and the animal. Don’t roll it on its wheels; use it as a shield. Don’t scream, shout.”

If the big cat attacks, which is rare, the ODFW recommends you “fight back with rocks, sticks, garden tools or any other items available.”

According to the ODFW there are more than 6,000 cougars, aka mountain lion, and 25,000 to 30,000 black bears that roam throughout Oregon.

A small number of black bears roam the east side of the Cascade mountains. Most bears will run away when they spot you and are probably more scared of you than you realize. But if you encounter a bear give it plenty of room and be calm. If the bear is on the same trail as you, back away slowly and take an alternate route if you can. The chances of a black bear attacking you are slim but if it does happen, stand tall and be loud.

“Bears should never be allowed access to human food or garbage; it habituates them to people and increases the chance of conflict,” the ODFW said on their website. “Once habituated to finding food near homes or campgrounds, bears can become a threat to human safety and must often be destroyed.”

Oregon is full of spiders, but with a few exceptions, none pose a threat to humans.

There are three species of Oregon spiders that can be very dangerous, but you’re more likely to find them in your garage than when exploring a forest or seeking out a waterfall.

Hobo, yellow sac and black widow spiders can all be potentially dangerous, but the black widow is the one to be most mindful of. Their bites can lead to abdominal muscle cramps, nausea, profuse perspiration, tremors, fever, labored breathing, and restlessness. In rare cases, people have died from black widow venom, but less than one percent of those bitten suffer anything near that serious.

Every year there are about 10 to 20 rattlesnake bites reported throughout the state. The Western rattlesnake is the most venomous animal that slithers throughout Central Oregon and can strike at any time.

Matt Keenan, access and habitat program coordinator with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, noted that rattlesnakes don’t want to bite people.

“They want to stay away from people. They’re very reclusive. Really, you have to almost step on them to be in danger of being struck.”

Rattlesnakes do slither everywhere, but some places are a little more favored by the creatures than others — especially at Smith Rock, which is known for its beauty and adventure.

There has only been one recent snakebite reported at Smith Rock, which happened last year to a dog who was off leash. If you see one, you and your furry friends should keep your distance.

David Vick, an interpretative naturalist at Smith Rock State Park, said, “If they are really feeling cornered and harassed, the Western rattlesnake would want to coil and rattle its rattler as a last sign or warning. They just want to be left alone.”

Typically, at Smith Rock, hikers will see them along paths, sunning themselves, since they’re cold-blooded creatures.

Enjoy wildlife safely:

•?Secure your garbage.

•?Feed your pets indoors.

•?Never feed wildlife.

•?If you feed birds, be aware that feeders may attract other wildlife. Place feeders so only birds can get to them.

As Sisters naturalist and Nugget columnist Jim Anderson says, “The best thing to do for ALL wildlife is just leave ’em be.”


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