Oregon House to hear report on cougar control

Oregon legislators will hear Tuesday how wildlife experts from across the West either laud or loathe the state's much-maligned study in which agents killed 101 cougars to test whether it would improve elk herds and reduce human-safety complaints and livestock damage.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has scheduled a meeting with a House committee to report on the peer review of the study and its conclusions. The three-year study, which ended last year, led to the killing of 21 cougars in Jackson County.

The study concluded that killing cougars created a positive response in elk recruitment and a reduction in livestock damage in northeastern Oregon, but not enough cougars were killed in Jackson County to test that hypothesis. "For a variety of reasons, we weren't able to reach our targets," said Ron Anglin, the ODFW's Wildlife Division administrator who will present the findings at Tuesday's hearing in Salem.

Copies of the comments obtained by the Mail Tribune show wildlife-management peers in several Western states praised the ODFW for embarking on a large-scale study, which was ordered by the Legislature in an attempt to settle the polarizing issues of cougar management in Oregon.

"I am well aware of the myriad social/political/otherworldly" ramifications dealing with issues related to this research with carnivores, and the attempts to address these issues through an adaptive manipulative research effort conducted by the managing agency are commendable," wrote Dan Thompson, a trophy game biologist for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

But Robert B. Wielgus, director of the Large Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State University, panned the study as "seriously flawed" with what he considered to be "very serious errors."

"The claims made in this report seem to be based on pre-determined beliefs and philosophical positions — not scientific evidence," Wielgus wrote in his comments.

"I can say without a doubt, that these results would never be acceptable in a peer-reviewed journal," Wielgus wrote.

State Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat, called the study "a sincere attempt at addressing these issues," but said he believes Wielgus' comments should be taken into consideration.

"The recommendation is we should stop and start over," Buckley said. "What we're doing should have a scientific basis."

Buckley noted that all those reviewing the study, except Wielgus, worked in state natural-resource agencies and they were "generally positive" about the document, he said.

However, "none of them were able to state they can back this up as a scientifically valid program," Buckley said.

The study cost the ODFW $310,501. It was funded from a pool of about $9.6 million collected annually from hunting licenses and tags, according to ODFW.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or e-mail at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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