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Meeting on cougar plan to be held

Published Wednesday March 8, 2006 by LEE JUILLERAT, H&N Regional Editor

How many cougars are too many?

How many aren't enough?

Craig Foster doesn't pretend to know the answers, but the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist will be explaining state plans to manage growing populations of the sometimes intimidating animals, also known as mountain lions or pumas.

“They're a cool critter. Just a fascinating animal,” Foster said. “But because they are a large predator, they come with a certain amount of conflict. We need to have some reasonable management guidelines set out in a plan.”

Foster has served as the Lake district biologist since 2000 and was an assistant biologist in northern Lake County from 1988 to 1995. He will provide details on the state's proposed cougar management plan at 7 p.m. Thursday during a public meeting hosted by the Klamath Basin Audubon Society. The 108-page plan has drawn more than 1,000 public comments.

Cougar populations dropped to an all-time low of about 200 in the 1960s, but Foster said those numbers have increased to about 5,100. In the late 1980s, district biologists typically received about two to five cougar complaints a year. Now they receive that same number each month.

Foster said cougars create human safety concerns. Likewise, cougars can cause livestock deaths and also adversely impact deer, elk and bighorn sheep populations. The main prey for cougars are deer and elk.

“We have all those problems,” Foster said. “Cougars are abundant throughout the state.”

Foster said cougars became an issue in the mid-1990s when populations caused conflicts in all areas of Oregon, not just rural counties. People in urban areas, who had expressed little or no sympathy for conflicts outside the Willamette Valley, quickly became alarmed as those problems increased in larger cities.

Ironically, Foster said the number of reports about cougars in rural areas have held steady or declined as “people have come to realize that living with cougars is part of living in Oregon.”

Within his Lake County district, Foster estimates that nearly two of every three calls are from people living near Adel and Paisley.

Under the proposed plan, minimum statewide cougar populations will be set at 3,000. That doesn't mean, Foster emphasized, that populations will immediately decline. The plan proposes decreases through two processes: administrative removals and limited hunting seasons.

At Thursday's meeting, Foster will give the same briefing he made to members of the state Fish and Game Commission. He and Tom Collom, the Klamath district biologist, will be available to answer questions. Commissioners will meet April 13 and 14 in Salem and could adopt the plan, or direct officials to do more study.

“It's fairly contentious. It's very political,” Foster said of the plan and its controversy. “It's also been very interesting for me personally.”





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