ZIGZAG, Ore. — After announcing that they planned to track down the cougar believed responsible for a hiker's death near Mt. Hood, officials with Oregon Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) say that their first day of searching proved fruitless.
“This is big country,” said Brian Wolfer, the ODFW watershed manager in charge of the effort. “The search may take some time and will be a fluid situation. We’ll continue to adjust our operation as necessary.”
Although ODFW referred to the operation as a "capture effort," Wolfer has previously said that capturing a cougar in the steep terrain is not an option, and any cougars they find will likely be killed.
The trackers began early Thursday morning at the Hunchback Mountain Trailhead, near where 55-year-old hiker Diana Bober's body was found. Although two trackers rode for about nine miles with four dogs trained to pick up cougar scent, they did not pick up any scent or recent "cougar sign" — tracks, scat or scratches.
ODFW said that they saw few signs of ordinary cougar prey either, such as deer.
“It’s very important that we started our search at the site where Diana was found,” said Wolfer. “The cougar wasn’t there. Tomorrow we will expand our search into a new area.”
Wildlife personnel are also working to place more trail cameras in remote areas, and are trying to encourage local residents with recent trail camera images of cougars to contact their Clackamas office.
Most male cougars have a "home range" averaging 123 square miles, while adult females average 22.5 square miles, according to ODFW. It is not yet known whether the cougar believed to have killed Bober was male or female.
Friday morning, ODFW says that crews will start to expand the search area, staying within a typical cougar home range distance of where Bober was attacked.
The U.S. Forest Service has announced a closure to protect public safety and allow for search and capture operations to continue with minimal disturbance from people, which they say could compromise search efforts. See the Mt Hood National Forest website for more information.