var s_pageName=”” var s_server=”MailTribune.com” var s_channel=”” var s_pageType=”” var s_prop1=”” var s_prop2=”” var s_prop3=”” var s_prop4=”” var s_prop5=””By MARK FREEMAN
Animal-rights activists in Oregon and across the West are taking shots at the state’s draft cougar plan, saying it focuses too heavily on managing public complaints instead of managing the animals themselves.
But that’s exactly what the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife was aiming at when it crafted its draft Cougar Management Plan, which, among other things, calls for killing more cougars in areas where livestock and human-safety complaints are high, until the complaints subside.
The plan’s so-called “adaptive harvest management” approach is the department’s solution for sustaining the cougar population yet cutting roughly half of damage and human- safety complaints attributed to cougars.
“The public is telling us, ‘There is a problem. Do something,’” said Mark Vargas, an ODFW biologist in Central Point who helped draft the plan. “If the public isn’t calling us, there’s no problem.
“The phone calls are real,” Vargas said. “People are frustrated. They are the citizens of the state we have to answer to.”
But critics from Oregon to Colorado are questioning a plan based largely on what agency biologists say are often unverified complaints.
Wendy Keefover-Ring, director of the Colorado-based organization Sinapu, said attacks on humans and livestock by cougars are statistically very rare, yet the “specter of a large cat that might eat you” generates misplaced fears.
Educating the public on how to reduce livestock damage and deal safely with a cougar encounter and targeting just the damage-causing cougars are better approaches for reducing complaints than killing animals, she said.
“Basically, you have a free-for-all in Oregon,” Keefover-Ring said. “This (draft plan) is so particularly bad that it merits a lot of attention.”
The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to adopt some version of the plan during its December meeting.
The plan calls for killing more cougars around urban “fringes” such as the hills above the Rogue Valley to help reduce public-safety and damage reports to 1994 levels — the year sport-hunting with hounds was banned.
The draft does not specify how more cougars would be killed by sport-hunters, and it does not call for any new or expanded hunting seasons. It also does not call for the return of sport-hunting with hounds.
The plan does call for ensuring the cougar population does not dip below 1994 levels.
Four cougar studies in Oregon were used in computer models to estimate that the cougar population here had risen from about 3,100 animals in 1994 to 5,101 in 2003.
The number of reported livestock damage and human-safety complaints climbed from 36 in 1986 to 853 in 2004, though the agency acknowledges that the vast majority of reports are not verified.
Williams animal-rights activist Spencer Lennard said the complaint increases are more the product of “public furor through the media” than actual conflicts.
Lennard said humans leaving livestock or pets unprotected in urban-forest interface areas are more responsible for real damage than the cougars.
“The plan doesn’t put the onus of behavior-modification on the only one who can change — humans,” Lennard said.
“Why do the animals always have to lose?” he said.
Ron Anglin, the ODFW’s Wildlife Division administrator, said the draft plan is designed to ensure Oregon maintains a healthy cougar population while allowing “flexibility to respond to public concerns in all the ways we respond now.”
While this is the first time agency biologists have used complaints as a driving force in cougar management, the approach long has been used in deer, elk and other big-game species, Anglin said.
Elk hunts and the issuing of tags to kill elk causing agricultural damage are common tools in elk management. Elk-damage complaints largely go unverified, Anglin said.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will hold a public meeting on its cougar management draft plan from 7 to 9 p.m. Tuesday at the Jackson County Courthouse Auditorium, 10 Oakdale Ave., Medford.
Written comments will be accepted through October. The draft is available on the ODFW’s Web site at www.dfw.state.or.us.
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