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14 December 2021 Cougar use of residential areas and interactions with people in periods of population stability and growth
Brian N. Kertson, Ilai N. Keren
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The presence of large carnivores close to people poses unique challenges for wildlife managers working to maintain fully functioning ecosystems while simultaneously minimizing potential risks to public safety and private property. In western North America, cougar (Puma concolor) use of residential areas is relatively commonplace and has contributed to undesirable interactions with people. A common assumption is that cougar population growth translates into greater proximity to people and more interactions, but to our knowledge, direct evaluation of this assumption has not occurred. We used GPS telemetry locations and confirmed cougar–human interaction reports to construct single-sex Leslie matrices, utilization distributions, and a two-stage hurdle model within a Bayesian framework to investigate the effects of population trajectory on cougar use of residential areas and interactions with people in the wildland–urban interface of western Washington. We collected data during two time periods with different expected population growth rates, anticipating greater cougar use of residential areas and interaction levels during the period of increased growth. Contrary to our initial expectations, we did not detect meaningful differences in cougar presence in residential areas or number of interactions with humans between study periods. Instead, we documented consistent space use patterns by all demographic classes that seemed to be governed by different life-history strategies. Interactions with humans were largely a function of individual cougar behaviors during both study periods. The consistent presence of abundant, well-connected wildlands coupled with cougar dispersal likely mitigated the potential effects of population trajectory as the increased expected growth rate in Period 2 manifested primarily as subadult emigration via wildlands. We found that a source population does not necessarily translate into greater proximity to people and more interactions. Cougar management in wildland–urban environments would benefit from the application of strategies that address the complex interplay of biological and anthropogenic factors that contribute to cougar presence in residential areas and their likelihood of interacting with people.

Brian N. Kertson and Ilai N. Keren "Cougar use of residential areas and interactions with people in periods of population stability and growth," Journal of Mammalogy 103(2), 347-360, (14 December 2021).
Received: 12 January 2021; Accepted: 10 November 2021; Published: 14 December 2021
population dynamics
Puma concolor
residential development
wildland–urban interface
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