April 14, 2006

Oregon Commision OKs Plan to Control Cougars

SALEM, Ore. -- Oregon wildlife officials are going to start hunting more cougars - at least in areas where high densities of the big cats threaten people and livestock.

The cougars' numbers - including in some areas inhabited by people - have been increasing since 1994. Oregon voters approved a law that year prohibiting sport hunters from using dogs to track cougars - widely considered the most effective means of killing the big cats.

With the steady rise in the cougar population has come increasing pressure on state wildlife managers to approve more hunting of the cats in places where there are reports of conflicts with people and livestock.

The state estimates there are currently 5,100 cougars roaming Oregon. On Thursday, the state Fish and Wildlife Commission approved a plan that calls for holding cougar population at or above 3,000 - the population at the time voters approved the hunting restrctions.

The plan gives the department authority to kill cougars as long as livestock kills and complaints from people exceed 1994 levels. Another 66 will be targeted in wildlife management areas where deer, elk and bighorn sheep herds are struggling.

The plan is scheduled to take effect later this year, after wildlife biologists draw up other target populations of the cats where problems are occurring around the state.

Government hunters, who unlike sports hunters are allowed to hunt with dogs, would do much of the killing.

Approval of the hunting increase plan came after the panel heard several hours of testimony, most of it in opposition.

Animal rights activists said the plan is based on unconfirmed reports of problems between cougars and humans. They point out there's been no recorded incident of a human being killed by a cougar in Oregon.

"This plan is nothing less than the slaughter of cougars with no factual basis to support it," said Misha Dunlap of Eugene.

Hunters called for the restriction on using dogs to be scrapped, and landowners testified that the plan doesn't go far enough to protect livestock - and people - from the cougars.

A southern Oregon rancher, Lyle Woodcock, said he's lost five calves to cougar attacks in the past year. He said the big cats are beginning to threaten humans as well.

Woodcock said that on a recent night while driving in a rural area, he saw a cougar that appeared to be stalking two women who were out for an evening stroll.

"The cougar was right up with them," he said, but then it became startled and ran away.

The head of the fish and wildlife panel defended the plan adopted Thursday, saying that "doing nothing is not an option."

"We have increased populations of both cougars and humans," commission Chairwoman Marla Rae said. "That causes increased conflict."