Sorry gang I've been busy this week, just logged in. buck460 let me kinda go through and I'll show you where we disagree and maybe where we agree.
"Attacks on humans are rare, as cougar prey recognition is a learned behavior and they do not generally recognize humans as prey." I've been stalked by them myself. I've seen the entire animal, ready to spring and attack me, they have the same basic look your housecat does when he's about to attack something, and yes, it looks different than walking or hiding. I've probably talked to more than a hundred people that have had the same experience. I'm not lying, they weren't either. You mention "random tracks". If you back track to get to the truck and suddenly there are a bunch of cougar tracks that weren't there before that always stay near yours what would you think? Keep in mind in that hundred or so people are three with degrees in biology or wildlife biology. They were told in school what you believe but changed their minds when they actually observed them in field.
My point about kids is well illustrated here.
I'm normally leery of wikipedia but I checked the references below they turned up legit.
Notice how much of this list is covered by these descriptions, child,small female, older and probably more vulnerable.
This is normal predator behaviour, they attack what they see as the most vulnerable member of the herd it has nothing to do with good or evil.
This attack is a perfect example.
The child was deliberately targeted when there were multiple targets available.
As for the political aspect, no tinfoil hats needed. Some government appointee official in charge of DOW for the west deliberately sets the bar high
to support his own political views and enforces it. No conspiracy needed.
Discern has already touched on my last point. People who tend to become wlidlife biologists tend to be a of a certain political persuasion and are not at all sympathetic to the ranchers point of view. They blow off ranchers as uneducated hicks.
I'll try and compress this story. It happened to a relative.
Barn cats started disappearing regularly. The last few shreds of one were discovered by their young daughter. Dad looks at the remains and see's that they are torn up differently than a fox or owl would've done, and bears just don't tend to come into this area.
DOW is called, rancher is treated with scorn by official on the phone and told that cougars don't do these sorts things.
Next day a clear cougar track is found, DOW is called again, they somehow never find the time to come out and see.
Claw marks start to appear on the chicken coop, two more cats disappear, the animals around the house are all clearly terrified.
DOW still won't do anything.
Enough, the animal is tracked and found but NOT killed. Guns are fired near it (none of them aimed in it's direction) they dogs bark and growl, the humans yell. Problem solved, animal scared off, right?
DOW called again, ranchers told they were mistaken that it couldn't be a cougar, basically told they are liars or idiots, but they would be in trouble if they had harassed the wildlife.
Problem not solved, two days he's back this time the tracks lead onto the porch.
"Coyote hunt" called, animal tracked, problem solved.
No "random" animals involved, tracking dogs used to make sure of this.
This is representative of the ranchers patience, they tried everything else first and only when humans were in danger reacted.
Can you understand how someone who had seen this behaviour from DOW would have doubts about "confirmed" numbers being actual numbers?
Bottom line is this, tourists and mountain home owners in new suburbs seem to be who we see in the 'documented' attacks. My personal theory is this, people who know to be worried about them, watch for them and scare the average cougar away. Problem animals are the ones who don't scare. Admire them all you want, just be careful of them. I certainly didn't shoot the couple who were about to attack me, I scared them off instead.