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The Columbia Press

Columnists & Other Opinions

Oregon's cougar management needs reworking

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife removed this cougar, which returned to the scene of a fatal attack on an Oregon hiker in September. (Courtesy ODFW)
By Jim Akenson, Oregon Hunters Association, Thursday, February 7, 2019

The fatal cougar attack on a hiker in the Mount Hood National Forest last year was a tragic thing. Evidence evaluation indicated the cougar was a female in good health. Is this a surprise? Not really.

Cougar numbers are at all-time highs for our state, and the distribution of these cats encompasses the entire state.

What accounts for this cougar population expansion from an estimation of less than 3,000 in the mid-1990s to well over 6,000 today?

Some of the answer is biological, some is social, and much is connected to management capabilities and practices. We need to find a way to return to this socio-biological balance, and looking to the recent past might just be the best bet – back to a time when hound hunting was a legal and effective management tool in Oregon.

What are the consequences of so many cougars in Oregon? It affects prey animals, specifically deer, which relocate to human development areas to avoid a higher predation risk. The relocation also draws in cougars that will go where the next meal can be found.

Many hunters and state wildlife managers report that deer are now less abundant in the wilder mountain, high desert, and canyon regions of our state. Meanwhile, Oregon cities are wrestling with the number of deer inhabiting city limits, and cougars are showing up in back yards and school yards.

As cougars become more comfortable in human-altered landscapes, the probability of negative encounters with humans, as well as pets and livestock, increases.

So, what is the solution? Biologically, it is plain and simple – more intensive cougar management through various hunting techniques. With an estimated population of 6,400 cougars, and roughly 14,000 people hunting cougars and harvesting from 250 to 300 cats per year, this only equals a harvest rate of 4 percent, which is not enough to even flatten the ever-rising cougar population curve.

According to the 2017 Oregon Cougar Management Plan, the success rate for 2016 cougar hunters was 1.9 percent, with 13,879 people reporting that they hunted cougars. Contrast that with 1994 data, the last year that dogs were allowed in limited-entry cougar hunting, showing 358 people hunted cougars and harvested 144 for a success rate of 40.2 percent.

Bottom line: hunting efficiency with dogs is dramatically higher, and provides wildlife managers a reliable tool for maintaining the cougar population within its management objectives.

Oregon’s cougar management and record keeping are divided into six zones, each of which is assigned a desired harvest quota to keep the population in balance with the varied activities of all Oregonians.

Employing the current limited management methods, only one of the six zones has met the harvest quota in recent years. A criterion for quota establishment is complaint frequency.

By far the most cougar complaints are recorded west of the Cascades, including the coast. This is also where the bulk of the human population lives.

Oregon does have a legislatively authorized agent program wherein highly vetted houndsmen are permitted to lethally remove cats to reduce human conflict and bolster deer and elk survival.

These agents work closely with ODFW district biologists. Even with this program in place, cougars are increasing.

** Jim Akenson is a wildlife biologist, book author and Conservation Director for the Oregon Hunters Association (oregonhunters.org). He invested much of his career in researching the Northwest’s predators.

Jim Akenson


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