While this describes a single incident in Bend, the basic principle is the same everywhere. Indiscriminate killing of predators creates more conflicts with humans. State wildlife agencies argue that hunting/trapping will reduce human conflicts when in fact it often exacerbates them.

The recent killing of yet another cougar in Bend represents a tragic and unnecessary death of an animal that was just minding its own business and posed no threat to anyone.

The hype surrounding the killing lacks ecological perspective. Recent research in predator ecology suggests that killing animals like cougars (or wolves, coyotes and bears) only increases conflicts with humans. Though this information is widely known in ecological circles, apparently the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife hasn’t read any new science in decades because they continue to foster the myth that indiscriminate killing of predators will reduce conflicts. Here’s what ODFW doesn’t tell you:

First, all predators are social animals. When their social relationships are disrupted by hunting and trapping, it creates “social chaos.” For instance, in a study done in Washington state found that as the cougar population declined due to hunting, the number of reported conflicts went up. There is a good reason for this observation.

In cougar society a dominant male controls the territory overlapping two to five female cougars. The dominant male kills young teenage male cougars that enter its territory. But when hunters kill the dominant male, they unleash a free-for-all of young “teenagers” vying for that territory. You may suddenly have two to four young males occupying the same geographical area as formerly occupied by one older male.

Furthermore, teenage cougars, like human male teenagers, are more reckless, bolder and less skillful hunters. This means they are far more likely to prey on livestock and/or enter the backyard of a house to capture a dog or cat.

A similar disruption of social bonds occurs when a female cougar is killed. Unlike deer or elk that produce young in the spring, female cougars produce a litter of kittens at any time of year. That means a female killed even in the winter months may have dependent kittens. Since cougars are not fully able to hunt on their own until they are 15 to 16 months old, orphaned kittens are also more likely to kill easy prey like livestock or pets.

Cougars also will fill any void if the habitat is good. Killing a cougar on Pilot Butte means that another cougar is likely already moving into the same territory. The new cougar may be less experienced than the cougar killed. In any event, killing does not solve the issue.

The threat posed by cougars is infinitely small. Since 1890 there has only been 24 documented fatal cougar attacks in all of North America! The so-called threat posed by the cougar on Pilot Butte was almost nonexistent. By contrast, every year in the US there are 30 to 40 fatal attacks by domestic dogs, and millions of nonlethal attacks. In other words, the dogs that are regularly taken up the Pilot Butte trails pose a greater threat to people than any cougar, yet most of us do not give the dogs a thought.

A more humane approach to the cougar presence would have been to close the park temporarily and allow the cougar to scamper off. Or alternatively to sedate, capture and move it out of town.

But the real problem is the ongoing cougar killing championed by the ODFW that ignores good science and feeds public fears. Indiscriminate killing by hunters and trappers is the ultimate source of predator conflicts in Oregon. In California, where cougar hunting has been banned for decades, there are far fewer per capita conflicts with livestock and humans, despite the fact that California has more cattle, far more people and the highest cougar populations in the West.

 
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About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

13 Responses to Cougar in Bend did not need to be killed

  1. avatar monty says:

    Oregon has a very healthy cougar population. My son’s hobby is tracking and locating cougar kills. He has found over 200 cougar kills in the previous 6 years. On occasion due to the deer, cougars visit my property. Because most people do not “read” wildlife sign: tracks, scat, scratch piles, bird activity,….. etc. they are not aware of the presence of this cat.
    So when a cougar is seen adjacent to a campground, a warning sign is posted the following day while the cougar is probably 10 miles removed. So the moral of this story is live like the “cat” is your neighbor!!

  2. avatar Barb Rupers says:

    Good advice, Monty.

    The owner of a dead horse in the Bend area about three months ago thought perhaps a cougar had killed it. No conclusion was reached about the cause of death. There was quite a lot of discussion about the issue. Here is one comment from an Idaho resident:
    “It is their job especially since cougars aren’t managed and our over-populated in Oregon due to the ban on hound hunting and trapping. So yes ODFW is accountable. It’s their job.

    “Historically we don’t have as many of these problems in Idaho or human deaths to cougars because we can hunt with hounds. We’ve had more problems with cougars due to wolves eating the cougars food supply in areas in Idaho where wolves are populated driving cougars into valley bottoms to look for other food sources.

    “This is not a natural occurrence at all.

    “It’s reckless hands-off wildlife management policies to protect predators at all costs, and they are so over-populated they’re coming into people’s yards.”

    • avatar Nancy says:

      “It’s reckless hands-off wildlife management policies to protect predators at all costs, and they are so over-populated they’re coming into people’s yards.”

      Over-populated?

      Wow…….lived here in my area of southwest Montana for over 20 years (consisting of ranch lands and thousands of acres of public lands and forests) and can even begin to relate to that statement.

      Should that statement have also included the fact that THOSE areas might just be over populated by humans, development, in areas that might once have been called “home” to all sorts of wildlife?

      We humans keep forgetting that point, especially when we get anxious or frightened, about wildlife, that doesn’t quite fit our norm, showing up in our yards.

      Be interesting to know if this is a new trend of human expansion that love (and can afford) to enjoy the spacious outdoors yet aren’t willing nor able, to share the space with wildlife?

      Or a breed of long time resident humans, hoping to capitalize/cash in on the newbies fears, hoping to keep alive traditions like trapping and shooting anything that moves, that might interfere with the ag or hunting way of life here (and elsewhere)

      • avatar Louise Kane says:

        “We humans keep forgetting that point, especially when we get anxious or frightened, about wildlife, that doesn’t quite fit our norm, showing up in our yards.

        Be interesting to know if this is a new trend of human expansion that love (and can afford) to enjoy the spacious outdoors yet aren’t willing nor able, to share the space with wildlife?”

        Nancy I spend a lot of time listening to talk about wildlife here where I live and defending coyotes and native wildlife. I think you are right about the newbies coming in and buying land and not wanting to share, a great deal of intolerance. The other segment of wildlife intolerant landowners that really distresses me is pet owners. Its an awful place for me to be in because as a pet owner, I find myself getting really irate about other pet owners that have little tolerance for wildlife. The common complaints being “they” should stay out of our yards, “they” have other places to go, if “they” come near my pet that’s it. And then they leave their animals out or are hysterical when their dog is attacked when their dog is out during coyote or fox birthing and denning periods. These people find a lot of love for their own animals but not an iota of consideration for wild animals. Most dog and cat owners have an egocentric selfish love for their pets that is not rational or generous. Their compassion extends only to their own pampered family pet. These people too are often the people that I have to pick up after as they seem to think their dog poo is less polluting than others dogs.

  3. avatar Gary Humbard says:

    George is correct in that removing one cougar typically creates more problems as it could displace one dominant male with two or three sub-adults or female cougar with kittens to feed.

    Boulder, CO which has much higher cougar population has learned this important lesson and unless a cougar is stalking children or adults they leave it alone. If its stalking, they inform the public, letting them know safeguards to follow and then harass it out of the area. If it continues to stalk or kill pets and livestock, then lethal measures are taken.

    The City of Bend probably contacted ODFW which basically did a “cover our butt” response with little regard for a pro-active approach.

    Twenty-eight deaths in 125 years from cougars compared to ~3,700 deaths due to Fido, enough said!

    • avatar Louise Kane says:

      2 deaths from wolves in 100 years ……

      • avatar Louise Kane says:

        in all of North America

        • avatar FrankieJo Ellis says:

          Two humans killed by wolves, in 100 years, in all of North America compared with how many Wolves killed by humans? Louise, I’ll bet my bottom dollar, more than 100 wolves are killed by humans, monthly. It makes me so angry and so sad. Thanks for adding your knowledge of the numbers. So much propaganda going around. 🙁

  4. avatar Yvette says:

    Another good article, George.

    Could it be that the more urbanized we become the further removed our skills of what to look for, listen for and behave. (like Monty’s post states) When we actually do have a predator encounter we panic and make all the wrong moves and decisions.

  5. avatar monty says:

    Gary, Barb and Nancy, agree w/your comments. The major problem that I have is not cougars but human thieves breaking into rural houses!!

    • avatar PMC says:

      Washington State is looking for a home for a few “Good Grizz-ley Bears”.

      So, you think Human vs Human causes interaction?

      Are you sure you can skin Grizz, Pilgrim?
      see

  6. avatar rork says:

    “In other words, the dogs that are regularly taken up the Pilot Butte trails pose a greater threat to people than any cougar”

    Math police agent 99 says: this was not demonstrated and is doubtful, and is certainly NOT a restatement of the data given just before it. Greater number of problems with dogs has mostly to do with greater number of dogs where most people are, not their greater danger per animal encountered. We could use similar bad statistics to argue black bears are much more dangerous than griz, but it’s cause human vs black bear encounter is much more common. Yes, the overall risk to AVERAGE people from dogs is greater. Stick to that simple fact. Most people are nowhere near a cougar. It’s also true that cougar attack is pretty rare – if they actually commonly stalked people as prey there’d be some of us dead every day.

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