February 5, 2023

A Closer Look at Oregon's Cougar Management Plan

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A few days ago, I brought you a story about Oregon’s cougar management plan and what it meant for hunters, citizens and landowners there. The information I received about the plan was limited and I must admit, I did not fully read the proposed cougar management plan as presented by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife.

Needless to say, I received emails and comments from readers about my story saying, for the most part, I had messed up, that my story was missing the truth as to what was going on behind the scenes, so to speak. Being so geographically removed, it is hard to know all the ins and outs of issues like this. This prompted me to do some more research. It was a late night.
On the surface, this story seemed like any other story about hunters fighting anti-hunters and animal rights groups. What I didn’t see was actually a three-way battle between the Oregon Fish and Game, hunting groups and anti-hunting and animal rights groups. Before this cougar management plan is appoved, amendment or shot down, there may be a fourth contingient in the battle, the state legislature. It should be noted as well, that there appears to be disagreements within certain groups that would normally band together on hunting issues.
In 1994 Oregon passed a measure (BM18) banning the use of dogs to hunt cougar. This appears to be a turning point in the management of the animal by OFW. The newly proposed cougar management plan speaks on nearly every page making reference to events prior to 1994 and post 1994.

One thing we all need to bear in mind during the discussion of cougar management is the rate of population growth of the cougar. Generally speaking, the population has been on the incline since 1987 with spikes up and down. From my perspective, the only trend that I am able to surmise is the sudden decrease in cougars killed by hunters immediately following the ban on hunting with dogs. The managment draft says that during a period of time after the banning of dogs, hunters were learning new techniques for hunting the animal.

First let’s look at some facts taken from the draft cougar management plan. The draft plan lists the numbers of cougars killed by year beginning in 1987 up through 2003. Of the numbers of cougar killed, it is broken down by those killed by hunters and those killed by, I assume, fish and game personnel because of human threat, nuisance or livestock damage problems. According to the plan, between the years 1987 and 1994 20% of all cougars killed on average was killed by hunters, 80% by non-hunting methods. From 1995 through 2003, 49% were taken by hunters while 51% by non-hunting means.

Keeping in mind the population increases that seemed to soar after 1994 (bearing in mind that officials do not attribute that to banning dog hunting), let’s look at other factors.

In 1994, there were 588 cougar tags issued to hunters. The success rate that year was 40% – the last year with using dogs. In 2003, 34,135 cougar tags were given out, with a hunter success rate for that year of 1%. An unbelievable increase in the number of hunters seeking to hunt cougar.
As the cougar population grew, so did the number of complaints from residents. In 1987 there were 36 complaints compared to a high of 1,072 in 1999, dropping back down to 697 in 2003.

In 2003 there were a total of 412 cougars killed by both hunting and non-hunting means. 164 were killed by non-hunting methods. Of those 164, 68% resulted in complaints from livestock owners.

All of these facts and figures are not much different than the same facts and figures put out in game management plans all across America. There are a couple of issues that seem to make Oregon’s plan a bit unique.

We know that in 1994, the state of Oregan banned hunting cougars with dogs. What is interesting is what is written on the Oregon Deparment of Fish and Wildlife web site page that addresses the cougar management plan and gives information for making public comments. If you scroll down a little way, you’ll find Key facts about cougars in Oregon and the draft cougar management plan. Under that heading is this:

ODFW works within the framework of the law. Oregonians have twice said through initiative petition that hounds may not be used to hunt cougars, and the Legislature and Governor have agreed with that stance. This draft plan abides by that determination.

However, existing law does allow federal and state employees to use the full range of management tools, including hounds and snares but not including poison, to deal with cougars that are causing human, pet or livestock conflicts.

Also, the very last sentence seems to raise some hackles on the backs of many hunters as well.

As is the case with all similar wildlife management plans, the costs of cougar management are funded by the sales of hunting licenses and tags.

From the hunter’s perspective, these two issues are creating a stir. It was pointed out by one reader to me that when Oregon hunters were explained what these two objectives really meant, the so-called widespread support of the draft cougar management plan didn’t seem to be getting the same amount of support.

One group opposed to the plan conducted their own survey at the recent Portland Sportmans Show. The Oregon United Sporting Dog Association said their results show an overwhelming disapproval of the plan when explained what it really meant for hunters.

What seems ironic as well as hypocritical, is the state banning the use of dogs for hunting cougars yet the fish and game department retains the right to do this, with seemingly little objection from the animal rights groups. Going along with this, what many hunters are angry about is the fact that the fish and game officials are out killing cougars in areas where they are a bother and not letting the hunters harvest them.
In most states with similar nuisance animals, the game officials make every attempt to work with hunters or hunting groups to remedy these problems. I don’t know if that is being done here or not.

What is also angering hunters is using monies collected from hunting license fees to pay for officials to go kill nuisance cougars. They don’t believe that their dollars should be used for that. They feel that if their money is being used to control population growth of cougars, they should have the opportunity to hunt the animal before state officials kill them.

I know we have not heard the last of this because my mailbox is filling up with comments and accusations about the politics going on with this issue. As I get the facts, I’ll pass them on to you.

To get a copy of the Oregon Cougar Draft Management Plan.

Tom Remington