Sprenger calls town meeting to discuss cougars

An apparent boost in the local cougar population €“ or at least the ones settling down with interests in the Sweet Home-Brownsville-Lebanon areas €“ has prompted Rep. Sherrie Sprenger to call a meeting Thursday to discuss the problem.

A particular hot spot has been a sheep ranch operation on Courtney Creek Drive, between Crawfordsville and Brownsville, where six cougars have been trapped since late May. In March, two adult male cougars were trapped on one morning, approximately three miles apart, in the Holley area, and numerous other sightings have been reported around the Sweet Home area.

“Brian Wolfer, a biologist with the Springfield office of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, said that the numbers, particularly at the Courtney Creek Drive ranch, have been higher than normal.

“The number of cougars that have been there in short order is a little unusual,” Wolfer said. He said the spike could be due to increased births a year or two ago. Female cougars tend to keep their kittens with them until they are about a year or year and a half old, then they drive them off to live their own lives.

“”Definitely, the numbers jump around a little bit from year to year,” he said. “One year we may have six or seven taken out of a unit and the next year two. The next year it might be six or seven. It depends on what happens in the reproductive cycle for the cougars.”

Nancy Taylor, a biologist in the Corvallis ODFW office, said that nine “damage cougars” have been taken thus far this year in the McKenzie Unit, which is the area around Sweet Home south of Highway 20. In the Santiam Unit, north of Highway 20 and stretching to the Columbia River, four have been killed.

Those numbers represent an increase from 2008, when two “damage cougars” were taken in each unit, and in 2007, when one was taken in the Santiam Unit and four in the McKenzie.

Taylor noted that those numbers only represent cougars that have killed livestock. She said more have been killed by hunters or may have been struck by vehicles.

State law permits cougars that have killed livestock to be trapped and killed. In most cases, local “damage” cougars are taken by U.S. Department of Agriculture or private trappers, since it is difficult to hunt the big cats without dogs.

Wolfer said cougars tend to develop hunting preferences and they will tend to move into a territory vacated by another cougar.

“What’s attractive to one cougar is going to be attractive to another cougar,” he said. “Sheep look a lot like deer in terms of body shape. A cougar ends up eating a sheep or two and gets removed for that. Another cougar experiences the same thing and ends up living close to a sheep flock.”

Taylor noted that the first two cougars trapped at the sheep ranch were adults, but the last four have been juveniles, who still had remnants of their “baby” stripes.

She said the ranch in question is located in a hot spot for cougars, geographically.

“Typically, they’re attracted to forested ridge tops, whether oak or fir, and drainages,” Taylor said. “This lady’s property had both.”

Wolfer said cougars are attracted to areas with good deer habitat.

“If it’s a better place to find deer, if it’s a good hunting spot, they’ll spend time there,” he said.

Taylor said Courtney Creek and Crabtree Creek both have been known for attracting cougars, due to the alignment of ridges in the areas that facilitate the animals’ movement.

Wolfer and Taylor said cougars tend to develop hunting preferences and sometimes those end up being livestock.

“Sheep look a lot like deer in terms of body shape,” Wolfer said. “A cougar ends up eating a sheep or two, gets removed for that, another cougar experiences the same thing and ends up living close to a sheep flock.

“When a cougar moves into an area and isn’t taking livestock, it’s going to live there longer because it doesn’t create conflict.”

The recent conflict has prompted local community leaders to take action.

Sprenger, R-Scio, will hold a town hall event at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 19, to specifically address the cougar overpopulation in the region.

The meeting will be held in the Lebanon Public Library Community Meeting Room, 55 Academy St.

“I have been hard at work on this issue and feel that it is time to not only update the district, but also receive input from my constituents,” Sprenger said. “The increased sightings in my district as well as state-wide cause concern for personal safety and livestock losses. We need to find a reasonable approach to the effects of the cougar overpopulation.”

Sprenger will speak about the issue and policy for responsible management. This will be followed by a panel of experts to share ideas and answer questions from the audience.

The public is encouraged to attend. For more information, call Sprenger’s capitol office at (503) 986-1417.

Also, former Linn County Commissioner Cliff Wooten, of Scio, has proposed creating a Linn County Predator Co-op that would collect annual fees from members, depending on the number of livestock they rasie, to fund control programs.

For more information, contact Wooten at (503) 394-3089.