Michael Moss’ 64-acre goat ranch sits on the edge of BLM land in southwestern Oregon. It’s “healthy cougar country,” he says, and he’d like it to stay that way. That’s not something you’d expect to hear from most livestock owners, but Moss is a member of Goat Ranchers of Oregon, a group that advocates smart land stewardship. And that stewardship, Moss notes, should include not only deer and elk, but their predators as well.
That’s why Goat Ranchers
of Oregon has teamed up with six conservation groups to file
a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of
Agriculture’s Wildlife Services. The plaintiffs are concerned
that under Oregon’s 2006 cougar
management plan, Wildlife Services, under contract with
the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is killing cougars in
certain parts of the state without having adequately studied the
environmental impacts of removing the big cats.
to the cougar management plan, an estimated 5,100 cats roamed the
state as of 2003. Oregon Fish and Wildlife wants to maintain a
population of at least 3,000. But that plan is drawing fire from
individuals and groups who interpret that to mean 2,000 cats will
be indiscriminately killed. The agency, however, says that it
intends to eliminate only as many cougars as necessary to reduce
conflicts with humans and livestock.
reasoning is flawed, says Noah Greenwald, a conservation biologist
with the Center for Biological Diversity. He notes that increased
complaints about cougar conflicts don’t necessarily mean
there are more cougars; rather, they might reflect human
encroachment on cat habitat or inaccurate sighting complaints. Fish
and Wildlife lacks the data needed for an accurate picture of
cougar numbers, he says. Furthermore, he adds, recent studies
suggest that over-hunting may compound cougar problems, by taking
older, more established cougars and leaving younger, inexperienced
cougars, which tend to go for “easy meals” like
Accurate population estimates for cougars are
difficult to get, agrees Ron Anglin, Oregon’s wildlife
division administrator. He says the state’s estimate is a
conservative one, based on 20 years of research in Oregon and other
Western states, using data that includes pregnancy rates, estimated
mortality rates, and kitten survival. And, he says, the plan does
not set a target number of cougars to be eliminated, but rather a
minimum number of cats to be maintained.
lawsuit wends its way through the courts, Fish and Wildlife, and
Wildlife Services, are continuing to study cougar conflicts in the
three target areas as outlined under the cougar management plan.
Moss knows how politicizing an issue like this can be, but for him,
the lawsuit isn’t about politics: “It’s about
sound decision-making, and healthy wildlife populations include