Health Northwest

Are Oregon cougars being overhunted?

Are Oregon cougars being overhunted?

PORTLAND — A deadly cougar assault has reignited debates over hound searching and cougar administration in Oregon. Teams of Oregonians, notably hound hunters, say that Oregon’s cougar inhabitants is rising uncontrolled. Cougar advocates, however, say that Oregon is overhunting cougars, which analysis suggests can result in a rise in drawback encounters.

However earlier than you possibly can work out if Oregon’s cougars are being over-hunted or under-hunted, you want to know what number of cougars there are within the state.

The Oregon Division of Fish and Wildlife estimates there about 6,600 cougars right here, and probably as many as 7,600. That’s 3 times larger than the numbers reported Washington or Idaho. It’s even barely greater than the estimate for California: four,000 to six,000 cougars are thought to roam the huge state.

However searching teams, ranchers and Oregonians who stay in cougar nation say the Oregon’s cougar rely severely underestimates the state’s precise inhabitants. Conservationists argue it’s too excessive. Biologists and wildlife officers from different states say it’s much more difficult, and greater than only a query of numbers.

One of many huge causes Oregon’s quantity is a lot greater than its neighbors’: Oregon’s estimate consists of kittens, which not often survive to maturity, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported.

Oregon doesn’t rely the juveniles of another recreation species, like elk or bighorn sheep.

“The fact that they don’t clarify themselves every time says that they want people to assume there are 6,600 big cats running around the state,” stated John Laundre, a predator ecologist at Western Oregon College. “They don’t include babies for other ephemeral species, like ducks or deer.” And solely grownup animals may be hunted.

Derek Broman, ODFW’s state carnivore biologist, stated every time he provides a presentation he makes it clear that each one ages are included in official inhabitants estimates. However there’s no point out of that on the division’s cougar webpage, and you need to look deep into the cougar administration plan discover grownup cat estimates. A brochure specifies that the inhabitants consists of all age courses, however by no means provides grownup numbers.

Even when you exclude kittens and juvenile cougars from inhabitants estimates, Oregon nonetheless stories a few of the highest densities of grownup cougars within the nation.

Washington’s analysis into cougar densities dates again almost 20 years and consists of seven research areas. Throughout these areas, the state has documented constant findings: Roughly two cougars for each 38.6 sq. miles, stated Wealthy Beausoleil, the bear and cougar specialist on the Washington Division of Fish and Wildlife. He stated Washington’s cougar-density numbers are according to what different research — besides Oregon’s — report.

Oregon Division of Fish and Wildlife’s surveys discovered grownup densities twice that, relying on the ecosystem.

“I’ve not seen such high densities anywhere in the world,” stated Rob Wielgus, former director of the Giant Carnivore Conservation Lab at Washington State College, commenting on a controversial density survey carried out by Oregon.

Beausoleil has spoken to ODFW concerning the state’s inhabitants estimates earlier than, and has criticized the design of Oregon’s research, which he says will naturally overestimate regional populations. Derek Broman says ODFW managed for overestimation and stands by their knowledge.

It’s commonplace for cougar surveys to reach at totally different conclusions, stated David Stoner, a cougar biologist at Utah State College. Cougars are extraordinarily exhausting to review as a result of they’re so onerous to seek out.

ODFW says these surveys affirm their statewide inhabitants estimates, which they calculate utilizing a mannequin. They estimate statewide density by mapping cougar deaths, after which add anticipated delivery charges. Additionally they tweak the numbers relying on meals availability within the area.

Laundre stated the expansion estimate used within the research is an optimistic “best-case scenario” one: “A model is only as good as what you put into it. I could make their model show that there were only 3,000 total animals or 10,000 total animals.”

Some actual risks

All of this may appear to be an inner debate about the easiest way to rely cougars. Everybody agrees that at one level within the 1960s there have been solely 200 or so cougars within the state, and immediately there are a number of thousand. The cats are in no hazard of going extinct.

However so much rides on correct inhabitants estimates. Not solely do these numbers inform administration officers if populations are rising or shrinking, they’re used to assist set searching quotas for every area. Some scientists discovered that when cougars are over-hunted, drawback encounters with people and livestock improve.

Wielgus, who has left Washington for the Bend space, was one of many first to determine such a hyperlink.

“In the 20 years of research I did with WDFW, we conducted the largest study of cougars ever done anywhere. We found that heavy retaliatory killing or preventive killing actually causes increased problems,” he stated.

It really works like this: Feminine cougars have smallish overlapping territories that appear to fluctuate with prey abundance. Male cougars have bigger, non-overlapping territories that embody a number of feminine ones.

Solely giant, older males are able to holding down these territories, “and you don’t get to be a 10-year-old male by attacking humans or livestock or pets.”

However Wielgus discovered that these 10-year-old males have been much more more likely to be killed by hunters. “And we found that when you remove an older male, you have two or three teenage males come in to take their place. And those are the ones that are responsible for most bad encounters between cougars and people, as well as the majority of livestock and pet depredations.”

This motion of youthful animals additionally means it may be troublesome to inform if a inhabitants is declining as a consequence of overhunting or staying the identical.

Wielgus is a controversial determine within the predator administration group, partially for analysis indicating that searching wolves can improve assaults on livestock. He says he was silenced and compelled out of his place at Washington State College due to his work.

A smattering of papers have tried to debunk his cougar analysis, however much more have supported it. Probably the most current was an enormous, 30-year take a look at searching and drawback cougars in British Columbia. For his or her half, the Washington Division of Fish and Wildlife stands by Wielgus’ analysis and their very own: At the moment, they handle cougars particularly to keep away from the results of over-hunting.

“Our management philosophy is to manage for the social stability of the animal. We want to promote territoriality,” Beausoleil stated.

At first look, Oregon appears to be following Washington’s no-conflict tips: On common, Oregon’s hunters take lower than 14 % of the state’s huge cats annually. However in contrast to Washington and Montana, the place there are dozens of recreation administration models used to set cougar quotas, Oregon’s cats are divided into simply six giant areas, which makes it harder to trace regional densities.

The statewide quota for 2018 is 970 human-caused deaths — a whopping 27 % of the state’s estimated three,500 adults. Per the cougar administration plan, the quota serves as a mortality cap, and never a goal. The statewide quota has by no means been crammed, however a number of the recreation administration models recurrently strategy theirs.

Overhunting cougars can have impacts on cougars’ societies, too. As soon as regarded as loners, current analysis has revealed cougars’ social lives to be rather more complicated than beforehand thought.

Mark Elbroch, the director of the puma program at wildcat conservation group Panthera, research cougar communities. He’s discovered that the mountain lions inside one male’s territory perform like a society: They work together non-aggressively and appear to often share meals, a favor that’s apparently returned sooner or later.

“You can imagine that overhunting will have huge impacts on these social networks and organizations, on the glue that holds them together as functioning groups,” Elbroch stated.

ODFW’s Derek Broman is dismissive of the “social chaos” speculation. He says the division has carried out its personal analysis, and “there’s no information to suggest chaos and turmoil. Death and mortality is a common occurrence, even outside of human influence.”

Oregon officers might dispute the concept their administration practices result in extra drawback cougars. However the state does take away extra such animals than neighboring states. In 2017 there have been 462 such complaints, and 175 cougars have been killed. As compared, about 100 cougars are killed in California annually for attacking livestock. In 2016, 46 nuisance cougars have been killed in Washington.

Hunters say that one of the simplest ways to fight these drawback cats is to extend searching. However until numerous cougars are eliminated over a big space, extra will simply transfer in to take their place.

Biologists say it’s essential to keep in mind that the one means most individuals will ever work together with a cougar is thru their livestock or pets.

“Cougars aren’t fearsome,” stated Laundre, who has tracked and collared greater than 250 cougars. “I’ve never had a cat behave aggressively.”

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