Forest foes

By Joshua D. Granite
Flapjack Chronicle

The tall trees and trickling streams of Humboldt County appear tame but danger is always a possibility.  Miquan Johnson, 17, an environmental engineer major, is afraid to venture through Arcata’s community forest.

“I definitely won’t go into the forest late at night when I see raccoons and other shit,” Johnson said. “I’m not trying to get attacked by whatever is in there, and I know something is in there.” 

One reason for fear could be an animal attack, such as the one that occurred in Prairie Creek Redwood State Park on Jan. 24, 2007. Then 70, Jim Hamm was attacked by a cougar as he and his wife were hiking. His wife, Nell Hamm, then 65, fought the cougar away to save her husband.

In an interview with the North Coast Journal following the attack, Nell Hamm warned the public to take precautions when hiking. “Don’t ever hike alone,” Hamm said. “Jim and I, if either of us had been alone that day we would not be alive.”

The cougar, or mountain lion, is a stalk and ambush type hunter. The cat primarily hunts big game: deer, elk, moose, and big horned sheep. In fact, according to the California Department of Fish and Game’s records, there is an average of one cougar attack per year.

The attack of Hamm, though shocking, can be easily described as out of the ordinary. According to CDC statistics, a person living in the United States is 75 times more likely to die from choking on a toothpick than by being attacked by a mountain lion.

Wildlife experts say that if you encounter a cougar, try to convince it that you are not prey and that you may be dangerous by making yourself seem larger. Do not crouch down, as this may trigger a pounce response from the cougar. If the cougar holds its ground, don’t turn your back – wave your arms and shout to be louder. If you can, back slowly away and return to your vehicle or shelter. Throw sticks or stones at the cougar if it starts coming towards you. If it attacks you, fight for dear life.

When asked about a hypothetical attack from a cougar, Johnson said that he would kick it.

“If it’s [a cougar] too big, I’d run to find the closest weapon because you can’t outrun it, you’d have to fight it hand-to-hand,” Johnson said.

The biggest threat that small critters pose to humans is the threat of rabies.

“Rabies is a cynical disease, and we tend to have small problems all over the state that pop up over the course of time,” disease biologist Shannon Chaneler of California Wildlife Services said.

Though not fatal, the spray from a skunk can ruin your day. The pungent aroma can be cured with a number of home remedies that are easily found in a Google search.

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