Seal on the beach

Don’t approach seals on the beach, says the Oregon Coast Aquarium. Call the Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network’s hotline at 541-270-6830 if you see a pup or a distressed adult. Network staff can protect the animal by putting up signs around it.

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COOS BAY — Though life is different for people in Coos County with the advent of the novel coronavirus, local wildlife populations seem unchanged.

According to Stuart Love, District Wildlife Biologist for the Oregon Department of Wildlife, there was a slight uptick in wildlife sightings in residential areas in the early days of the stay-at-home orders. However, as restrictions lifted, and people became more active, wildlife sightings went back down to normal levels.

Early in the pandemic, ODFW heard about sightings of cougar and bear tracks on the empty beaches. He said this was likely because these animals were exploring food options in the absence of people.

Hunting and fishing levels by locals have evened out to normal levels after a slow start to the spring seasons. Restrictions on available camping have lowered the amount of hunting happening in some areas.

However, there has been an increase in wildlife viewing in areas like the Coquille Valley Wildlife Area.

“We encourage that. It’s a great use of that property in a situation like the one we’re going through right now,” Love said.

Love said he did not anticipate changes to levels to the local fauna. There is little evidence so far, he said, that North American wildlife species can contract or carry the novel coronavirus. There was word that domestic and wild cats might contract the disease, but his office has not seen evidence of this yet.

Until there is conclusive proof that they won’t catch the disease from local wildlife, the field workers at ODFW are taking steps to stay safe. They now enforcing rules that workers wear N-95 masks and gloves when handling wild animals. Further, they are less likely to trap animals and move them, as there is a slight potential that the disease could be moved with them.

That said, “By and large, our jobs haven’t changed a lot.”

Love suggests that members of the public call ODFW rather than handling wildlife on their own. This way, the animals can be handled in a way that is safe to them and to humans. He does not feel there’s a large risk to handling animals, but says the risk is “probably not zero, either.”

That risk is no reason not to enjoy Oregon’s fish and wildlife, though, Love feels.

“There’s still more positive than bad. We need to continue to place a high value on that resource. Enjoy hunting and fishing and enjoy viewing wildlife, if that’s what you like to do,” he said.

Cheryl Upshaw can be reached at 541-266-6049, or by email at worldnews5@countrymedia.net.

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