Cougar Watch 2009



There were three eye witnesses: Last Saturday, a small mountain lion reportedly scampered across the bike path just north of West Sacramento’s Nugget Market near the Clarksburg Branch Line Trail. Sheriff and police officials spent six hours scouring 6 acres for the lil’ cougar, but never found the cat.

The state Department of Fish and Game’s Web site notes that 80 percent of cougar sightings are in fact of other species, usually large domestic pets. Still, police warned West Sac residents to stay indoors at night, since the cougar might become more active during the evening hours. This is probably what West Sac tract-home residents do anyway, no?

Later that same evening at downtown’s R and 15th streets promenade, some 4.6 miles from Cougar Watch ground zero, there were yet more sightings of cougars on the prowl: at R15, Empire, the Shady Lady Saloon, and that new yogurt place that’s not that other new yogurt place. I’m no game warden, but I estimated that at least 50 percent of the felines present were in fact bona fide cougars.

Fortunately, there were no fatalities.

But this was not enough to sate my appetite, so on Sunday at dusk my brother and I hopped on the American River Parkway bike trail in search of more cougars. Ol’ bro of course had no clue we were jockeying the trail as cougar bait, but I didn’t feel guilty not telling him: There have only been four documented mountain-lion attacks in the past four years, and none ever in Sacramento County. You’d be better off going to Harlow’s if you want to get bitten.

The trip got my mind juices flowing: Have you ever noticed that near Woodlake the bike trail smells just like Disneyland’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad? Is it funny-ha-ha when kids walking back from the river pretend-gesture to knock you off your bike, or are they just sons of bitches? Should I be wearing a helmet? When my brother is drafting behind me, is he just staring at my ass the entire time?

Is that a cougar? (It’s a tree trunk.)

On Monday, I still had cougars on the brain, so I called Tim Dunbar, executive director of the Sacramento-based Mountain Lion Foundation. He’d heard of the West Sac cougar sighting and mentioned that last year three mountain lions were spotted in the expanse along the river near Cal Expo. Still, Dunbar was dubious.

“It’s far-fetched that it came along the American River and crossed the I Street bridge,” he said of the cougar.

I suppose that depends how you define cougar.