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Cougar management: Science, not supposition

Having studied cougars for well over 35 years, I find that I must comment on the guest opinion “Oregon Cougar Management: Look back, not ahead” by Jim Akenson. This article is full of the standard misconceptions, inaccuracies and downright myths that have plagued cougar management not only in Oregon but across most of the West.

The first misconception is the claim of over 6,000 cougars in Oregon today. This is based on a much-criticized population model and includes kittens. Why are we counting kittens? Actual adult numbers, as reported by ODFW, are around 3,300 cougars in the state. This is no different than any other Western state, including California, which has not had a sport hunt on cougars for over 40 years. There are no more cougars in Oregon than other state and we will not be overrun with them.

The rest of the other misconceptions and myths presented can be grouped into: 1) concerns cougars present a danger to us and wild ungulate prey, and 2) killing more of them, especially with the use of dogs, is the only “plain and simple” solution.

Regarding danger to us, the recent death of a hiker, possibly by a cougar, in the state has fueled this concern. Does this incident indicate that we in Oregon need to fear cougars? First, remember, if this fatality was caused by a cougar, it was the first ever in the state! Second, more people are injured and die in deer-car crashes each year in Oregon. Yet we don’t hear demands to reduce the deer population to a “safer” level. Thirdly, except for Oregon, on a per population level, the state with the lowest number of cougar-human incidences is — California, again, with no sport season. Lastly, scientific evidence indicates that the more you sport hunt cougars, the more problems occur. So how is killing even more cougars with hounds supposed to be a “plain and simple” solution to a problem caused by killing too many cougars?

As for deer and elk, first, only a small percentage of Oregon citizens (less than 5 percent) hunt these species. Ask the other 95 percent of the state if they really care if hunters have enough deer to kill.

Second, the overwhelming scientific evidence, including ODFW reports, repeatedly concludes that “predation has minimal effects on deer populations ... ” Yet hunters continue to insist that if we kill more cougars, there will be more deer.

Third, do we really want more deer? With over half a million deer in the state, just how many more deer-car collisions are we willing to tolerate so less than 5 percent of us can kill more deer?

The last issue raised is that, though the science shows we don’t need to, the author argues hunters could kill more cougars if allowed to use dogs. How many cougars are they currently killing? The author reports that hunters are killing (no, they do not harvest them like corn) around 250-300 cougars per year. What he fails to report is that the total number of cougars killed is well over 550 per year. This is far more than were being killed when hounds could be used. So, I am not sure what the complaint is. How many more do they think they need to kill to solve a problem caused by killing too many cougars already?

And lastly, we have to ask: why are hunters killing cougars and want to kill more? They don’t eat them! The science shows they don’t need to kill them. So why? In reality, based their many posted videos, it is obvious that they are killing cougars just for the fun of killing them. Dogs will make it more fun and easier. The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation defines this is wanton killing of wildlife, killing just to kill, and it has no justification in modern wildlife management. The science shows there is no reason to sport kill cougars, supposition supports the continued immoral, wanton killing of them.

I end by reiterating, I am not an anti-hunter. I used to hunt. I stopped because hunting has become a killing industry with one driving management goal: more game in the bag. To achieve this goal, agencies are willing to ignore sound science, endanger ecological stability and put public safety in jeopardy. This is not how wildlife should be managed. If game agencies cannot manage wildlife for all citizens, they should be limited to ducks and deer. Leave the rest, especially the predators, to unbiased scientifically based management, not supposition.

John Laundré, Ph.D., is a predator prey ecologist, book author, and an advocate for sound science-based conservation of all native wildlife. He has spent all of his professional career researching predator-prey interactions and has published over 70 scientific based articles on his work.

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