Forest Creatures: Bears and Cougars At The Urban/Forest Interface

Female cougar and cub tranquilized in Sooke, BC, Sooke NewsMirror photo

Vancouver Island has one of the highest concentrations of cougars and black bears in the world. In the south of the island, where the development and population are concentrated, this means potentially dangerous wildlife encounters, especially in areas where development abuts the forest - also known as the urban/forest interface.

Rapid development of previously wild areas on south Vancouver Island means human encounters with bears and cougars are increasing. Although wildlife encounters are more likely in areas close to the forest, wild animals pop up anywhere. We are continuing to move into their territories, whether with chainsaws or new houses, and the animals have nowhere to turn.

Park sign regarding bears and cougars

The photograph above shows a mother cougar and her cub that were tranquilized by wildlife officials in a backyard in Sooke. The two had recently taken down a deer in a nearby yard, and were eventually treed by two special dogs.

Once there the officials tranquilized the mother and cub for re-location. They will be taken to Jordon River and released. It was a happy ending for these elusive, buff-coloured forest creatures that had been preying on small dogs, cats, and deer.

Not all encounters at the urban/forest interface end as well. A recent cougar incident in Sidney, 65km northeast of Sooke ended differently:
"Just after midnight on Friday, July 8th, 2011, Sidney North Saanich RCMP responded to a cougar sighting near the new McTavish Interchange on Highway 17. Officers located the cougar and followed it in to the Town of Sidney.
Once in the Town of Sidney, after going through many yards and businesses and walking right down Beacon Avenue, the cougar was cornered on the shore by the Beacon Pier.
The BC Conservation Service was called, attended immediately and it was determined that it was unsafe to attempt to tranquilize the animal. The cougar was shot and killed by the Conservation Service." - source

For me seeing wildlife is one of the benefits of living on the fringe of the wilderness. But such encounters are all too often deadly for the creatures involved. Last year 62 black bears were killed by conservation officials on Vancouver Island. Eight of the island's cougars were killed during that time. Learn about reducing bear encounters at the urban/forest interface here, and about cougar safety here.

Black bear sharpening its claws on a big Black Cottonwood

Most of south Vancouver Island has been logged once, or more, usually clear cut. After that insult, the past few years have seen unprecedented development and the urban area is growing into the forest on many fronts. Places like Mary Lake, which is still in the process of possibly being saved to preserve the old growth Dry Coastal Douglas-fir forest that grows there, 99% of which is gone in this endangered ecozone.

Development now rivals the logging industry as a leading cause of forest destruction, and this time, the trees will not be growing back. It is not only the trees that suffer, but also everything else that lives in the forest including large predators like black bears and cougars.
They are everywhere

Cougar Facts
  • The cougar, also called mountain lion or panther, is Canada's largest cat. Cougars have long tails which may be one-third of their total body length.
  • An adult male cougar weighs between 63 and 90 kg (140-200 lbs), and a female cougar, between 40 and 50 kg (90-120 lbs). The biggest cougars are found in the interior and the Kootenays.
  • The cougar's primary prey is deer. It will also feed on wild sheep, elk, rabbits, beaver, raccoons, grouse, and occasionally livestock.
  • Cougars are most active at dusk and dawn. However, they will roam and hunt at any time of the day or night and in all seasons.
  • During late spring and summer, one to two-year old cougars become independent of their mothers. While attempting to find a home range, these young cougars may roam widely in search of unoccupied territory. This is when cougars are most likely to conflict with humans. - source

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