The zoo we live in – Eugene Weekly


In the hills of South Eugene, where the city meets the forest, late spring and early summer mean a lot. The sun shows its face a little more, the freezing rain becomes a warm temperate mist, and wildflowers emerge from many of our city’s wild inhabitants.

Overturned trash cans and bear droppings in the backyard are commonplace, and fearful hikers panic at the curious but watchful mountain lions watching them through the ferns. It’s the beginning of summer: these things happen.

black bears

In May and June, black bears emerge from the woodwork. Food, curiosity, or both are what drive them away from the forest and into your neighborhood.

While black bears live in the southern Willamette Valley year round, they spend the cold winter months in torpor – a state of lethargy and inactivity, different from hibernation in that the bears sometimes wake up and leave their dens for short periods before returning to their deep sleep. Essentially, torpor is a less extreme form of hibernation.

“They have a low metabolic rate, but they can grow out of it very quickly,” says Christopher Yee, a wildlife biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

In the spring, the torpor ends and bear sightings begin. Making up for months of inactivity, the black bears are hungrier than ever this time of year, and the blueberries they value most have yet to be plentiful.

Due to rain and erratic weather in May and June, the berry harvest may not be available until July, and already hungry black bears may be forced to wait. Wildlife officials have already seen bay boom delays in the Coast Range, which is home to high concentrations of bears, Yee said.

ODFW has identified eight black bears within the Eugene city limits, and they are tracking food.

“They’re like most wild animals, they’re food-motivated,” Yee says. “If there’s a food source for them, they’re going to be there and they’re going to eat it.”

The black bears are desperate right now, and to avoid a run-in people have to think twice about everyday things like taking out the trash or setting up a bird feeder on the patio.

Yee says when bears forage in city neighborhoods, they may become accustomed to human food and contact, and more likely to pose a threat to public safety. In the event that this happens, the state is obligated to remove the bear, lethally.

“None of us who work at ODFW want to go out and kill bears because they’re hungry, but it can be avoided by taking precautionary measures,” Yee says.

Yee says one of the biggest problems happens on garbage day. People take out their trash cans for collection the night before. But during bear season, it allows hungry bears to knock over trash cans and steal easy but unhealthy meals.

“It’s an easy fix,” Yee says. “Keep your trash locked in the garage or shed or something bears can’t get to on days when there’s no trash pickup, then bring it to the sidewalk the morning of pickup.”

But the problem is not limited to waste. Bird feeders are filled with nutrient-rich seeds that are irresistible to hungry bears. It is best to put the bird feeder aside in late spring and early summer.


Tree Cougar

Photo courtesy ODFW

mountain lions

It’s every hiker’s worst fear to see a mountain lion‘s golden-green eyes staring at them through thick ferns. But though feared, it is also an inherent possibility in and around Eugene. Oregon is home to more than 6,000 cougars, according to the ODFW website.

When cougars enter residential areas around Eugene, Yee boils it down to two types of scenarios.

For one thing, sometimes a desperate cougar will come and try to chase people’s pets. In this case, the agency acts quickly to remove the animal, because according to Yee, hunting domestic animals is a prelude to hunting humans and creates a public safety problem.

The second scenario is simple. Sometimes a cougar just gets lost. In this case, ODFW will often give the cat a period of time, usually overnight, to get out of town unscathed.

In the outskirts and wilderness areas of Eugene, cougars are naturally present. It’s not about them getting lost or trying to pick on you or your pet; there is just the chance to come across one.

In order to avoid an encounter, the ODFW recommends staying alert, especially at dawn and dusk, hiking in groups, leashing dogs, refraining from feeding wildlife, and keeping food in animal-proof containers.

“It’s like years past, because people run into mountain lions all the time and in most cases lions don’t want anything to do with people,” Yee says.

Yee assures people not to panic if they see a cougar in the wild and reminds everyone that their feline behavior is not an indication of predation on people.

“They’re like a gigantic wild house cat, and a lot of times they’ll stare at you or follow you and that’s just cat behavior, it doesn’t mean they’re stalking you and they’re going to try to eat you,” Yee says. .

If sighting face to face, ODFW says don’t run, make noise like clapping and speak firmly, pick up children without turning your back or bending over, maintain eye contact with the ‘animal. , and make you grow by raising your arms. v

For more information on living with wildlife in Oregon, visit


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