Tag Archives: diana bober

Op-Ed: More Intensive Cougar Management Tools Needed In Oregon — OHA

THE FOLLOWING IS AN OP ED FROM THE OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION

By Jim Akenson

The fatal cougar attack on a hiker in the Mount Hood National Forest last year was a tragic thing. Evidence evaluation indicated the cougar was a female in good health. Is this a surprise? Not really.

OREGON WILDLIFE MANAGERS IDENTIFIED THIS COUGAR AS THE ONE THAT KILLED HIKER DIANA BOBER IN LATE SUMMER NEAR MT. HOOD. THE ANIMAL WAS TRACKED DOWN AND LETHALLY REMOVED. (ODFW)

Cougar numbers are at all-time highs for our state, and the distribution of these cats encompasses the entire state. What has accounted for this cougar population expansion from an estimation of less than 3,000 in the mid-1990s to well over 6,000 today? Some of the answer is biological, some is social, and much is connected to management capabilities and practices. We need to find a way to return to this socio-biological balance, and looking to the recent past might just be the best bet – back to a time when hound hunting was a legal and effective management tool in Oregon.

What are the consequences of there being double the number of cougars in Oregon? These effects are best described as alarming and pattern changing. One such pattern is for prey animals, specifically deer, relocating to human development areas to avoid a higher predation risk. This relocation is also drawing in cougars that will go where the next meal can be found. Many hunters and state wildlife managers report that deer are now less abundant in the wilder mountain, high desert, and canyon regions of our state. Meanwhile, Oregon cities are wrestling with the number of deer inhabiting city limits, and cougars are showing up in backyards and schoolyards.

As cougars become more comfortable in human-altered landscapes, the probability of negative encounters with humans, as well as pets and livestock, increases.

JIM AKENSON. (OREGON HUNTERS ASSOCIATION)

So, what is the solution? Biologically, it is plain and simple – more intensive cougar management through various hunting techniques. With an estimated population of 6,400 cougars, and roughly 14,000 people hunting cougars and harvesting from 250 to 300 cats per year, this only equals a harvest rate of 4 percent, which is not enough to even flatten the ever-rising cougar population curve.

Reducing human threat, increasing deer and elk survival, and bringing a cougar population back in balance with other interests in our state will require increased management action and efficiency. According to the 2017 Oregon Cougar Management Plan, the success rate for 2016 cougar hunters was 1.9 percent, with 13,879 people reporting that they did hunt cougars. Contrast that with 1994 data, the last year that dogs were allowed in conservatively controlled, limited-entry cougar hunting, showing 358 people hunted cougars and harvested 144 for a success rate of 40.2 percent. Bottom line: hunting efficiency with dogs is dramatically higher, and provides wildlife managers a reliable tool for maintaining the cougar population within its management objectives.

Oregon’s cougar management and record keeping are divided into six zones, each of which is assigned a desired harvest quota to keep the population in balance with the varied activities of all Oregonians. Employing the current limited management methods, only one of the six zones has met the harvest quota in recent years. A criterion for quota establishment is complaint frequency. By far the most cougar complaints are recorded on the west side of the Cascades, including the coastal region, in Zones A and B. This is also where the bulk of the human population lives. More than 350 cougar complaints per year were received during the last decade in these two zones. Unfortunately, this recording system was not initiated until 2001, so we don’t have data for the time before the dog ban of 1994. We do have records for administrative actions connected to human safety and pet conflicts before and after the dog ban of 1994. For eight years before the ban, they averaged only four per year, and then seven years after the dog ban these complaints increased to 27 per year – nearly a seven-fold increase.

Oregon does have a legislatively authorized agent program wherein highly vetted houndsmen are permitted to lethally remove cats to reduce human conflict and bolster deer and elk survival. These agents work closely with ODFW district biologists. Even with this program in place, cougars are steadily increasing in Oregon, where hunting them is very impractical without the aid of dogs. At present, the law authorizing the use of agents is up for renewal, and hopefully it will receive legislative support and then be applied more broadly for both reaching zone harvest quotas and to help curb the upward statewide population trajectory.

Editor’s note: Jim Akenson is a wildlife biologist, book author and Conservation Director for the Oregon Hunters Association (oregonhunters.org). He invested much of his career in researching the Northwest’s predators.

ODFW Ends Cougar Hunt, Says ‘Highly Probable’ One Shot Last Week Killed Hiker

THE FOLLOWING IS A PRESS RELEASE FROM THE OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FISH AND WILDLIFE

ODFW is ending cougar capture operations in Zigzag because all available evidence shows the cougar killed last Friday, Sept. 14 is the one responsible for the state’s first fatal cougar attack.

A TRAIL CAMERA PLACED NEAR WHERE HIKER DIANA BOBER’S BACKPACK WAS FOUND CAPTURED THIS IMAGE OF A COUGAR THAT WILDLIFE OFFICIALS WERE ABLE TO SUBSEQUENTLY CHASE DOWN AND KILL. (ODFW)

“It is highly probable that the cougar that killed Diana is the one that we killed last week,” said Derek Broman, ODFW carnivore coordinator.

The cougar killed was detected on a trail camera set right at the site where the attack occurred (see images). Over the past week, no other cougar has been detected in the area.

Cougars are territorial. Males have larger home ranges (50-150 square miles) while a female home range is usually 20-30 square miles. Trail cameras were first set at the attack site, then expanded to about a 35-square mile area around that site, and eventually surveilled a roughly 78-square mile area.

No other cougar was ever detected on this network of 31 cameras set on trails, wildlife corridors, saddles and other areas where cougars are likely to travel, adding to the evidence that the cougar responsible was killed on Friday.

The cougar’s age also plays a role in evidence. The female cougar killed is several years old, and by that age cougars have an established a home range. The lack of any other cougars in the area suggests this cougar was in its home range when it attacked and killed Diana, and that it is unlikely another cougar is responsible.

While ODFW believed last Friday that it had likely killed the cougar that attacked Diana, it could not rule out the possibility that another cougar was responsible. “Our highest priority was to capture the cougar responsible for the attack to protect public safety,” said Broman.  “We continued to monitor the area for other cougars to increase the likelihood that we caught the right one while evidence was being examined.”

After the cougar was killed on Friday, its body was immediately bagged to prevent any contamination of evidence during transport and flown by Oregon State Police to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Wildlife Forensics Lab in Ashland, Ore., a lab dedicated to wildlife forensics.

The lab has been analyzing evidence from the cougar’s body and evidence from the scene of the attack. However, the lab is unable to extract any relevant DNA from evidence collected at the attack scene to use for a comparison to the DNA from the cougar killed on Friday.

The analysis has been challenging due to contamination of evidence at the original attack site. Several days passed between when the fatal attack likely occurred and when Diana was discovered and evidence collected. Heavy rain did fall during that time period, further contaminating evidence.

“The evidence is too contaminated for us to ever be able to tie it to an individual cougar,” said Ken Goddard, Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Forensics Lab.

“We could not get the DNA evidence we had hoped to obtain in this case,” said Broman. “However, all the evidence available shows we have the right cougar.”

ODFW ASSISTANT BIOLOGIST DOUG KITCHEN PLACES A TRAIL CAMERA NEAR THE SITE OF THE ATTACK. (ODFW)

The cougar weighed 64.5 pounds, which is within the normal weight range for female adult cougars. Her exact age is still to be determined through a cementum deposit tooth analysis that used for all cougars in Oregon, but results will take at least a month.

“It is impossible to determine why the cougar attacked Diana. There is no sign that it was sick or unhealthy and a rabies test was negative,” continued Broman. “Wildlife behavior is unpredictable but cougar attacks are extremely rare throughout the Western U.S. where cougars are found.”

“We hope the ending of these operations brings some closure for Diana’s family,” continued Broman. “All of us extend our deepest sympathies to the Bober family.”

“We also thank all the partners who stepped in to help including the U.S. Forest Service, the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office, the Oregon State Police, USDA Wildlife Services, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Forensics Laboratory and private landowners in the area.”

U.S. Forest Service is now working to reopen the area closed during the cougar capture effort which is expected to happen as early as Monday, Sept. 24. The reopening will be announced on the Mt Hood National Forest website.

AN ODFW MAP SHOWS THE LOCATION OF THE ATTACK ON BOBER AND WHERE TRAIL CAMERAS WERE PLACED AFTERWARDS. (ODFW)

ODFW encourages Oregonians and all visitors to the state to review safety tips for living and recreating in cougar country.

“While cougar attacks are extremely rare, there are steps you can take to further minimize your risk in the outdoors, or if you live in areas where there are cougars,” Broman added. “Please take the time to review those tips by viewing the Cougar sighting sign and Living with Cougars page.”