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Warning issued after mountain lion stalks hiker near Colfax

Cat acted territorial and was aggressive in Saturday incident on Stevens Trail
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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State wildlife authorities have posted warnings along a popular wilderness trail near Colfax after a hiker reported being aggressively stalked by a large mountain lion on the weekend.

The warnings, issued by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, followed the hiker’s Saturday evening  encounter with a cougar about halfway down the Stevens Trail, between the Colfax trailhead and the North Fork of the American River.

A Sacramento TV station quoted Fish and Wildlife officials on Sunday reporting that the mountain lion was shot and killed by a warden after it approached aggressively.

Preparing to set off Monday from the trailhead, 17 miles northeast of Auburn, Sacramento’s Christie Jackson said that the warning wasn’t what she wanted to hear as she started out on a hike.

“It’s kind of scary,” Jackson said.

The initial posting on trees along the winding, scenic trail stated that: “A large mountain lion was spotted about 2 miles from the trailhead.” Even so, the trailhead parking lot was filled with about 30 vehicles that overflowed onto the roadway.

“The cat acted territorial and was aggressive toward the hiker,” the Fish and Game posting stated.

Citing an unnamed Fish and Wildlife officer, KCRA 3 News reported that the mountain lion was killed a day after the animal slowly circled the hiker over the course of 1½ hours Saturday evening..

According to the officer, the animal was shot and killed after it crouched down in apparent attack mode. Journal attempts to contact Fish and Wildlife were unsuccessful.

Hikers on the trail said they were unaware of the weekend mountain lion incident but many said they take precautions when they set out on a wilderness hike in cougar country.

Folsom’s Bob Trumm said hiking has a number of risks, including mountain-lion encounters.

“I know if I see a mountain lion, I’m supposed to act big by doing things like raising my coat,” Trumm said. “And I’m not supposed to run away. When I’m hiking, I’m not thinking about mountain lions a lot but I’m aware they might be there.”

While fatal mountain lion attacks are rare in California, the death of 40-year-old Barbara Schoener of Placerville in 1994 on a trail in the Auburn State Recreation Area near Auburn is still a vivid reminder that cougars are a real threat. Besides Schoener, three other fatal attacks have been recorded since 1909 in the state. The others took place in 1909, 1994 and 2004.

Connie Heilaman, a long-time area trail-user with Alta Hikers, said going out in a group and making plenty of noise is one sure way of avoiding mountain lions – and having them avoid you.

Heilaman said she’s never spotted a cougar in the wild, including on many hikes along the Stevens Trail.

“But I know they’re out there,” Heilaman said.

Alan Shuttleworth, a Colfax resident who regularly hikes area trails, said the encounter with the normally reclusive cat is an extreme rarity.

“I’ve been up and down that trail many times and never seen the actual animal or evidence of a cat.,” Shuttleworth said.

Mountain lions cover wide areas of territory in search of game. Fish and Wildlife guidelines estimate a typical cat roams within a 50-square-mile perimeter.

For Kevin Gould, a Colfax resident who has chickens, a mountain lion is believed to have been raiding his chicken coup over the past several weeks. His property is on the other side of Interstate 80, near Colfax High School.

“It (a mountain lion) has been coming up here, getting the chickens,” Gould said. “We only have six now – about seven or eight chickens so far have been killed.”

Gould said he hasn’t seen the perpetrator but he has seen what may be mountain lion tracks.

“There aren’t too many dogs with such big paws,” Gould said. “But the killing has gone down. It probably found someone else’s chickens.”

Colfax Record Editor Martha Garcia contributed to this report.