Jim's Outdoor Blog

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Cougars, Too Close For Comfort

jim-gaskins-and-his-cougar-taken-in-the-coast-range-sm.jpgofficer-matt-sherwood-holds-cat-killed-on-the-porch-of-a-house-where-it-had-killed-a-dog-sm.jpgthese-three-cats-killed-168-lambs-sm.jpgp7100001-sm.jpgJim and his Sept 1, 2007 cougar (400)

Cougars Cause Damage and Create Fear on Ranches

I want to state up front that I believe cougars are magnificent animals.  Their power and hunting prowess makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck, and at the same time holds me awestruck.  Our great outdoors would be far less interesting without them. 

As you read the following, I would like you to consider that cougars are not an endangered species.  Their numbers are increasing by…”leaps and bounds” (pun intended).  And, I truly value the welfare of most humans over cougars.  Whether you agree or disagree with the point of view I espouse in this writing, I’d bet everything I own, that if your life or financial well-being were threatened by a predatory lion, and the problem could be remedied by killing the offending animal, you would say, “Fetch a shovel Jim.  We got a cat to bury.”

As I wrote down my thoughts, I stood higher and higher on my soapbox.  But, in my world of human contact, most folks would agree with what I’ve written here.  Please remain mindful of this certainty; no one loves the wildlife and landscapes of the west more than those who make it their home.

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Springtime means long days and sleepless nights for hundreds of ranch families across Oregon.  Looking like cotton balls that have magically come to life, lambs are born in pairs or triplets.  Playful calves and colts frolic in the sunlight and multicolored goat kids discover their voices.  Twenty-four hours is too short a day for ranchers who are busy acting as a midwife and day care provider to an enormous number of four-legged mothers and babies.  Unfortunately, during this time of prolonged chaos, killers are stalking their broods, hell-bent on destroying their livestock.  For ranch families, healthy livestock equates to their yearly wages. Across the west, coyotes, bears and cougars kill thousands of young ranch animals each year.  I am sure all parts of the country have depredation on livestock by wild animals, but I am most familiar with problems in my home state of Oregon.  Cougars have become an everyday topic in our part of the world.

One small rancher outside of Sutherlin, Oregon lost 168 spring lambs to three young cougars in less than one week.  His family had been in the sheep business on the same ranch, for three generations.  After multiple back-to-back years with extensive lamb depredation, the family had finally reached their limit.  With a total loss of nearly 200 lambs in a single season, the financial losses were too high.  More than sixty years of tradition came to an end.  Their remaining livestock was sold and their lives were forever changed.

Problem cougars and other predators are a full-time job for a small division of our government.  The jobs performed by these wildlife specialists are nearly unknown by the majority of Americans.  Where I make my home, Douglas County has three fulltime predator control officers, employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

Spring is their busiest season.  Working six and seven days a week, requests for their service vastly outpace their ability to keep up.  Using hounds, traps and outdoor skills, they are sorely tested by marauding lions, powerful bears and wily coyotes.  Stretching from the Pacific Ocean to east of the Cascade Mountain Range, Douglas County encompasses over 5,000 square miles of sparsely inhabited mountainous terrain.  Simply stated, in the spring, three men are far too few for any real success.  These fellows work year-round, but spring is their most hectic period of the year. 

Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODF&W) has regional offices around the state.  One southern Oregon regional facility is located in Roseburg, my counties seat of government.  As an outdoor writer and ODF&W volunteer, I have spent many hours speaking with their staff of wildlife biologists. 

As an agency, ODF&W has worked hard to overthrow a successful 1994 ballot measure, which outlawed the use of hounds (and bait) in the pursuit of mountain lions and bears.  Oregon’s wildlife agency had difficulty dealing with predator issues prior to 1994, but in the aftermath of ballot measure 18, the problem has steadily worsened. 

In trying to make some headway, state officials have instituted liberal lion hunting seasons.  Oregon hunters pay only $14.50 for a cougar tag and can seek lions twelve months per year.  If a hunter harvests a cougar, he or she can go to any licensing agent and buy a second tag.  To my knowledge no other state allows cougar hunting every day of the year, and allows the taking of two cats.  So far this change has had little if any impact. 

Calls to law enforcement reporting lion sightings in Oregon towns have become routine.  Many missing pets have been preyed upon by lions.  I have heard dozens of “close contact” stories.  It seems nearly everyone has a cougar incident to tell of.  I’ll share one with you. 

A  couple of years ago my neighbor was working on a gate just off the road running past our properties.  I stopped to visit and he asked if I had heard about the cougar he ran off.  I had not, so I listened intently as he relayed his encounter from the previous afternoon. 

Busy working at his gate he suddenly heard a vehicle horn honking.  He looked to the sound and saw a school bus stopped in the road at the next driveway down, a few hundred feet away.  The bus driver was frantically waiving for him to come to her.  With shovel in hand he immediately began walking toward the bus.  He could see his neighbor sitting in her pickup, parked in the driveway adjacent to the stopped bus. 

As he got close to the bus he could see the driver was standing and pointing toward the ditch on the buses passenger side; the side of the bus where precious cargo steps out to the street.  He looked in the direction the driver was gesturing and was shocked to see a cougar standing low to the ground in a crouch, looking as if it were ready to pounce.  The lion was frozen in place like a statue, his gaze fixed on the bus door.  He said the lion was so intently concentrating on the doorway, he hadn’t noticed the human standing only forty-feet to his right. 

My neighbor said he began pounding the shovel blade on the pavement and yelling loudly, “Get out of here!  Go on!  GET!” This had no initial impact on the cougar.  Stepping toward the lion yelling and banging the shovel, the cat finally looked at him, but would quickly redirect his eyes back to the closed bus door.  Finally the cougar hissed and growled at him, turned to its left and with a couple of bounds or leaps it was over the fence and out of sight.

We can only surmise this cougar was waiting for the seven-year old girl who lived at this rural address to dismount the bus.  Is there another explanation?  This girl’s mother couldn’t think of one.  Even though their home is over one dozen miles from her school, this young lady no longer rides the bus.

When lions turn from deer, elk and rabbits to the slaughter of domestic livestock and pets, they discover an easier way of getting a meal.  A poodle, beagle, house cat, lamb or young calf is much easier to overtake than swift and powerful wild animals.  The only way to prevent future attacks; is to kill the offending cougar.  People sympathetic to the animals cause should volunteer to have the lion relocated to their own backyard, placing their families, neighbors and pets in jeopardy and not someone else’s.

The problem is often compounded by the fact that most of our citizenry live inside large urban areas, places generally unaffected, or certainly less affected by this issue.  When dealing with predators on federal lands, the problem is worsened further still.  People in Boston, Philadelphia and New York have input on how problems are solved in backyards thousands of miles from their land of concrete, black top and steel.  They can’t handle massive crime, poverty and other afflictions in their communities, yet they feel qualified to comment and even make demands about the ways in which western ranchers should deal with wild animal attacks.    

Sixty-eight percent of Oregon is federally owned public land.  Ninety-five percent of Oregonians live on only five percent of its landmass.  Some counties consist of more than 8,000 square miles, and have fewer than 10,000 residents.  Their land use and wildlife issues have no hint of similarity to those faced by folks living on our eastern seaboard. 

This problem isn’t going away.  In the past few years several people have been attacked, even killed by mountain lions.  In Oregon, I believe our government will eventually overthrow the will of the urbanites and allow hunters the ability to use hounds to harvest cougars.  Government officials function within a “damned if I do or don’t” existence.  Western families are longing for a solution to this sometimes-terrifying problem.  Until then, for some western families, cougars will remain too close for comfort.

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March 27, 2008 - Posted by | Bears, Cats and Claws

5 Comments »

  1. I am in total agrement with you Jim,what can we do as whole to turn this the other direction? Should we be flooding are senaters with e-mail? any sugestion.
    Cary

    Comment by Cary Riley | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  2. Cary, Thanks for the comment. You should definately write and/or call your state senators. The biggest problem is apathy. How do you get city people to think of the rural residents plight, over their feelings of sympathy toward the predator? That is the battle fought everyday by ODF&W. Without the support of people living in Portland, Beaverton, Salem and Eugene, the situation will simply continue to worsen. Short of the Oregon Supreme Court over-ruling ballot measures, significant changes probably won’t take place. A few years ago I spent a good deal of time with a Predator Control Officer. One day we were transporting a problem bear in a live cylinder trap, driving the capture trailer from near the coast to a place seventy miles or so to the east. When we got to I-5 we needed to go south. Stopped at an intersection Carl turned to me and said, “Jim, if we go left (north) and turn this bear loose in downtown Beaverton, there would quickly be a change in the urban voters view on predator control.” I offered to buy the gas… Jim Gaskins

    Comment by jimgaskins | March 28, 2008 | Reply

  3. Wow, Jim – this is a great story. Thanks for emailing it to me – you bring up many great points – I live in Malheur County or, I should say I lived in Malheur county – just moved to Idaho a couple months ago, and there is about 3 people per square mile here – half the population lives outside of town. Considering there is roughly 30,000 people in the 2nd largest county in Oregon (9,930 square miles) and about 12,000 of them live in one town, (Ontario) that leaves a lot of people in the rural setting. It has always been frustrating to us that the people making the laws don’t know anything but concrete, asphalt, and picket fences. Cougars have become a big problem in Oregon since the measure making it illegal to hunt bear and cougar with dogs – I’m glad that you make your argument by saying “Our great outdoors would be far less interesting without [cougars].” I am not for the complete eradication of this animal, but alittle control would be nice.

    Have you hunted in the Steens Mountains of SE Oregon? There used to be a big mule deer population there as well as a thriving sheep population. Now a person is lucky to see a deer on the East side of the Steens where cougars have decimated both populations. A game biologist from Burns confirmed the problem with cougars is out of control. I spoke with him after my dad was skunked on a hunt to the Steens that he’d been looking forward to for 10 years. We used to blame the lack of deer to a hard winter in 1994 followed by a drought in 1995 or 1996. However, is it any surprise that this coincides with the ballot you spoke of in your blog? The game biologist I spoke with confirmed just what you said – there is just too much for them to handle. They have found multiple radio collared sheep killed by cougars and Dad found several deer carcasses that were obvious cougar kills. The cougar problem is so bad on the east side because the terrain gives them such an advantage over the deer. The ranchers that live in the desert below have felt the effects I’m sure. It’s a sad thing – then to read your story about the cougar as it had its eyes locked on the school bus door. Unbelievable. Imagine the what if…or don’t because it’s horrible, but you get my point.

    Very good article and I’m sorry I took so much space on my rambling comment that probably doesn’t make any sense! Thanks for a great read, though.

    Comment by Tom Sorenson | May 9, 2008 | Reply

  4. […] Here is another blog about the cougar problems – this one hit home as it is written by Jim Gaskins – who hails from the state of Oregon which is the state I recently (three months ago) moved from.  I think this is a very well written piece and does both make the hair stand up on my neck and makes me pause and consider things.  Very informative and well written, Jim. ShareThis   May 06, 2008 | 1 comment | Huntin’ Stories, Random Fodder | By Tom Sorenson   Discussion […]

    Pingback by Mountain Lions II - Base Camp Legends | May 9, 2008 | Reply

  5. Tom,

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Your thoughts and fears about mule population reductions due to the cougar are right on target. Oregon’s Department of Fish and Wildlife say there are over 6,000 cougars in Oregon. Every study I’ve read or heard about states that lone cougars kill one deer a week and cougars with kittens kill two deer a week. I am not a mathematician, but our deer herds cannot help but be in trouble.

    I realize that many cougars cannot possibly have a ‘deer-only-diet’, simply because we don’t have enough deer for all these lions. Think about it; 3,000 lone cougars and 3,000 cougars with young ones would equal 468,000 dead deer per year. So, cougars eat elk, rabbits, coyotes, bears, racoons, cattle, sheep, dogs, house cats, and anything else ‘that don’t eat them first’.

    The devastation to Oregon’s elk and deer populations is extreme. I am not a wildlife biologist, but it doesn’t take a scientist to envision the decimation of our ungulates and starvation for our lions. When lions run out of wild food, non-wild food will have to do.

    Thanks Tom!

    Jim Gaskins

    Comment by jimgaskins | May 9, 2008 | Reply


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