The science of Oregon cougar management

Spencer Lennard's recent essay, "Oregon should cut cougar-killing program" contained many inaccuracies about how the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife manages cougars. I would like to set the record straight.

Like all other big game management, Oregon's cougar program is funded entirely by hunting license dollars. No general fund tax dollars are used to manage cougars.

ODFW's 2006 Oregon Cougar Management Plan, which guides cougar management, does not call for killing 2,000 cougars by reducing the statewide cougar population from 5,000 (pop. estimate in 2006) to 3,000. Since the plan was adopted, the cougar population has continued to grow (to an estimated 5,700 in 2008).

The primary goal of the plan is to maintain a healthy population of cougars. The secondary goal is to reduce conflicts. As a guarantee that the state's cougar population would never fall to the low levels seen in the 1960s—before cougars were managed by ODFW — the plan set the number of 3,000 cougars statewide as a safety net. Should the population fall to 3,000, ODFW would end all sport hunting of cougars.

Since the passage of Measure 18 in 1994, using dogs to hunt cougars has been unlawful, and it remains so. But Measure 18 was written in a way that allowed ODFW to appoint agents with hounds to respond to livestock damage, public safety situations, or other official cougar management actions. Hounds are an indispensable tool in cougar management because these specially-trained dogs can pick up and track a cougar's scent.

What Measure 18 did not do is clearly grant ODFW the authority to designate these agents. HB 2971, enacted by the 2007 Legislature and signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski, simply clarified ODFW's authority to appoint agents. It does not allow the hunting of cougars with dogs. Further, both the bill and rules adopted by Oregon's Fish and Wildlife Commission tightly regulate the activities of these agents.

Cougar hunters in Oregon do not target older, stable, dominant male cats or females. Without the assistance of hounds, it is difficult if not impossible for hunters to target any particular sex or age class of cougar. Most cougars that are harvested are taken when hunters are pursuing other species like deer and elk. In livestock damage or public safety situations, only the offending cougar is removed. The sex and age data collected by ODFW from each cougar killed confirms that older males and females are not being targeted.

Education about non-lethal measures to end conflicts with cougars is a top priority anytime we are contacted by landowners or other members of the public about cougar damage or safety concerns. We also provide this advice in the many presentations we make to civic organizations, schools and other groups, online, and in brochures made available at our offices and a variety of other events and venues.

While such education is one of our top priorities, under Oregon law, a landowner cannot be forced to use non-lethal measures. A landowner does have the legal right to kill a cougar causing damage to livestock, and to to so without a permit and without calling ODFW first.

Finally, the science behind ODFW's cougar management plan is sound. The plan incorporates 35 years of hunter harvest and cougar mortality data; more than a decade of research with radio-marked cougars in Oregon; and peer-reviewed, accepted research and management programs developed by scientists throughout the western United States.

The plan also uses a peer-reviewed population model that incorporates the hard data of all known cougar mortalities (e.g., cougars killed by hunters or livestock owners) and information on age, gender and reproductive activity based on research and biological sampling. Similar models are commonly used by wildlife professionals because cougars are reclusive and solitary animals that cover a large territory. They cannot be counted through aerial surveys or methods used on other species.

ODFW biologists review and evaluate the latest science related to cougar management and apply appropriate information to the situation here in Oregon. The cougar plan is an "adaptive" management plan, not a static document. For example, in late spring, ODFW will evaluate the results of its three-year cougar target area work to determine if removing additional cougars led to less conflict and higher big game populations.

In striving to manage cougars, ODFW has heard from people who want no hunting of cougars and from those who feel cougar populations are out of balance and want hound hunting restored.

ODFW has the responsibility of balancing the public's differing views while fulfilling our ultimate mission to protect and manage all wildlife populations.

ODFW has a good track record of protecting cougars: under our stewardship, the population recovered from an estimated 200 in the 1960s to 5,700 in 2008. We stand by our cougar plan as one that operates within the law and is grounded in science.

Ron Anglin is administrator of the ODFW's Wildlife Division. For more information on cougars in Oregon, including non-lethal measures to avoid conflict, see

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