An avid, amateur cougar enthusiast in Port Alberni fears that logging on the Alberni Hump has destroyed a cougar den used by generations of the big cats.
“Island Timberlands has built a road right up to it, and there’s flagging tape right at the entrance,” said Ray McLellan, who has tracked and watched cougars at the small cave since he was growing up in Port Alberni in the 1970s.
“Now the last little section on top of the hump has been logged. They could have left a nice buffer around it,” said McLellan, whose father was a cougar hunter.
The area was logged last summer, but McLellan hoped the cougars would return to their traditional safe cave — a cut in the rocks that goes back six metres and is about 45 centimetres high.
However, there has been no sign of them, McLellan said. Before the logging started, he had bought a trail camera that he planned to hang in front of the den.
“They won’t put up with this amount of disturbance. They need peace and quiet,” McLellan said.
“These animals would usually take refuge in the Cameron River canyon, but that has been clearcut too. These cougars are now displaced,” he said.
One fear is that the animals could cut along Roger Creek and Dry Creek Park and head into Port Alberni, he said.
“And bad things happen when they hang around town too much.”
Island Timberlands spokeswoman Morgan Kennah said the company was not aware that there was a cougar den in the area.
“If a noticeable den was discovered in timber at any stage of our planning, we would map the location and plan activities around the area accordingly,” she said.
“We have a bear den identified in this area which was protected with adjacent tree retention.”
Usually cougars den in escarpments and rock bluffs that are not conducive to harvesting trees, Kennah said,
No more logging is planned around the Alberni Hump for now, she said.
“Our near-term harvest plans in this area were complete this past winter.”
A Forests Ministry spokesman said Island Timberlands has to abide by the Private Managed Forest Land Act and protect critical wildlife habitat, but cougars are not considered a species at risk.
The provincial government estimates, from a 2010 survey, that there are between 400 and 600 cougars on Vancouver Island and the population is on the upswing.
The cougar population estimate provincewide is between 5,100 and 7,000 animals.
McLellan said it is likely the den had been used by cougars for hundreds of years.
“There have been five generations of animals since I found it in the mid-’70s,” he said.
“When one lot disappears, their place is almost invariably taken by a big male, and that tells me it is prime habitat,” he said.