July 12, 2001 11:00 pm

By Jayson Jacoby

For The Observer

BAKER CITY A state wildlife biologist shot and killed an 80-pound male cougar early this morning after police cornered it under a bushy blue spruce tree next to a hotel in downtown Baker City.

Todd Callaway, who works for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in Baker City, said he shot the cougar once in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun loaded with .00 buckshot.

He fired the shot through an open window in Room 114 at the Bridge Street Inn; that was one of six rooms evacuated earlier to protect motel guests.

Callaway said the cougar was about six feet away.

George Keister, head biologist at ODFWs Baker City office, then fired one shot with a .22-caliber rifle to make sure the cougar didnt suffer.

Although ODFW also has guns that fire tranquilizer darts, Keister, said ODFWs policy prohibits employees from tranquilizing cougars and releasing them elsewhere.

Tranquilizing cougars is a difficult and dangerous task, Keister said. Its impossible to predict the behavior of an animal thats been hit with a tranquilizer dart, Keister said.

We really didnt want it running around town with a dart in it, Callaway said.

Keister said killing the cougar with the shot from the motel room was both the safest and best choice in the situation.

Pam Maxwell, manager of the Bridge Street Inn, said she was asleep in her living quarters at the 40-room motel when police woke her a little after midnight.

According to Oregon State Police, Shea Maliwauki, 20, and Cole Goodwin, 20, both of Baker City, were walking near the Chevron service station less than a block northwest of the motel when they spotted the cougar and watched it run across Old Post Office Square toward the motel.

That was just before midnight.

The pair called police, who then called Callaway and Keister.

Maxwell said police evacuated guests from six rooms that were near the tree where police and the biologists had the cougar at bay.

She said none of the sleepy guests expected to learn there was a wild animal in our back yard.

Maxwell said the guests were allowed to return to their rooms after about 20 minutes.

Maxwell, who watched the cat from Room 114, said the cougar appeared to her to be absolutely scared to death.

It was a sad situation, she said. He was a beautiful cat.

Keister said its likely the cougar stayed under the tree because it felt secure there.

The spruce tree has branches that extend to the ground, and there were two fences in the area as well that kind of boxed it in, he said.

Keister said its impossible to say with certainty why the cougar ventured into downtown Baker City.

Based on the animals weight and size, he estimated its age at 1 to 1.5 years.

Thats about the age at which most cougars part ways with their mother, Keister said.

At that time the young cats start searching for their own territory, he said.

Its possible that older cougars drove the younger animal out of its preferred habitat in unpopulated country, Keister said.

Mature male cougars sometimes kill younger cats that stray into their established territory, he said.

Keister said this is the first case hes confirmed of a cougar roaming near the center of Baker City.

There have been several possible sightings of cougars on the fringes of the city over the past few years, he said.