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Cougar debate invites different solutions

Rogue Valley residents on all sides of the cougar debate found fault Tuesday with the state's draft plan for managing cougars so human-safety and livestock complaints drop by roughly 40 percent.

While all sides agree that Oregon's future cougar management should be based on more science and less emotion, the various groups at a public hearing in Medford differed on how to do that.

Some hunters and houndsmen used the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's public meeting to stump for a repeal of 1994's ban on hunting cougars with hounds, saying they can best target damage-causing cougars.

I think that would be a great way to go, said houndsman Terry Clearwater. There are a lot of guys waiting for this sport to come back.

Others derided what they called hunters' use of hysteria to help craft a draft management plan they believe focuses too heavily on killing cougars to curb damage.

— Cougar management means cougar destruction, said Christine Haynie of Medford. Push the fear button as a rationale to kill.

What needs to be managed here are not cougars but the humans who are setting up the hue and cry for cougar management, she said.

A few like Greg Roberts, however, spoke up in favor the draft plan meant to guide cougar management for the rest of the decade.

Let's all simmer down a little bit and find some common ground here, Roberts said.

More than 60 people attended Tuesday's meeting to weigh in on the ODFW's draft of the plan.

The plan calls for killing more cougars around urban fringes, such as the hills around the Rogue Valley, to help reduce public-safety and damage reports to 1994 levels ' the year sport-hunting with hounds was banned.

The draft does not specify how more cougars would be killed by sport-hunters, and it does not call for any new or expanded hunting seasons.

It does not call for a repeal or even a tweaking of the 1994 statewide ban by initiative on cougar hunting.

The plan also encourages counties like Jackson and Josephine to sign up with the federal Wildlife Services program to have its agents track, shoot or trap cougars causing damage and safety concerns.

But the plan does not spell out how much money it would cost the ODFW to implement the various aspects, nor where the money would come from.

Houndsman Tim O'Leary of Douglas County thought the missing ingredients polluted the plan.

If you were building a house and plan to hire a contractor, you wouldn't hire a contractor until you know how much it would cost and where you'd get the money, O'Leary said.

The plan also calls for having the cougar population not dip below 1994 levels of an estimated 3,100 animals. Current estimates are about 5,100 animals statewide.

Likewise, the number of reported livestock damage and human-safety complaints have climbed from 36 in 1986 to 853 in 2004, though the agency acknowledges that the vast majority of reports are not verified.

Luke Ruediger of the Applegate Valley said increased human population and urban sprawl likely make the plan's targets for reducing complaints unattainable.

I just don't see how we can reduce the number of complaints with this uncontrolled growth of our population, Ruediger said.

Other aspects of the plan address cougar interaction with deer and elk populations as well as ways to teach rural landowners how to reduce their potential for livestock and pet losses.

The ODFW will accept written comments on the draft through Oct. 31.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is set to adopt some version of the plan in January.

Medford was the seventh stop on the ODFW's eight-meeting trek through Oregon to gather comments on the draft. The final meeting was scheduled for tonight in Klamath Falls.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 776-4470, or e-mail Cougar debate invites different solutions"mfreeman@mailtribune.com.