Oregon's Painted Hills
 

MOUNTAIN LIONS IN THE STATE OF OREGON

In 1994, Oregon voters approved Measure 18, which banned the use of hounds to hunt cougars. Immediately, hunting-related cougar mortalities declined dramatically statewide (22 in 1995).

In response ODFW lengthened the hunting season to year-round in some regions, significantly reduced the cost of a cougar hunting tag for Oregon residents, increased annual hunting quotas, increased the bag limit, and issued an unlimited number of hunting tags. More than 43,000 tags were sold in 2009. As a result, sport-hunting related cougar mortalities have increased to record highs despite the ban on using hounds.

SUMMARY: Mountain Lions in the State of Oregon




Mountain Lion Habitat and Population in Oregon

The state of Oregon encompasses 95,996 square miles of land. Of this, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) claim that 71,997 square miles, or 75 percent of the state, is suitable cougar habitat.

However, a review by MLF researchers of a 2001 GAP analysis habitat map could only identify approximately 49,344 square miles or roughly 51 percent of the state as viable cougar habitat. The difference between the two numbers could be significant in accurately determining Oregon's cougar population.

In 1996, two years after the passage of Measure 18, ODFW placed the state's cougar population at approximately 3,000 to 3,300 animals. Ten years later, despite larger than ever mortalities caused by ODFW's Post-Measure 18 sport hunting policies, the Department ramped the population estimate up to 5,000 cougars. They justified this boost by claiming that "Local cougar population densities exceed any documented in North America."(1) As of April, 2011 ODFW's website posted an estimate of more than 5,700 cougars residing in Oregon, and some hound-hunting proponents are even claiming the cougar population in Oregon has reached the 7,000 level.

It is possible that this disturbing trend of ever-increasing cougar population estimates has more to do with justifying policy decisions to kill more cougars than reliable scientific data.

History of Cougar Management in Oregon

In 1843 a bounty program was initiated against cougars in the Oregon Territory. In 1961, this program was discontinued by the State of Oregon for a lack of cougars with only 28 cougar carcasses turned in that year. 6,762 cougars were killed and turned in for a bounty between 1918 (first year records are available) and the end of the program in 1961. At the time it was estimated that Oregon's cougar population had dropped to only 200 animals and were in danger of extirpation.(2)

In 1967 cougars were reclassified as game animals in an effort (according to ODFW) to protect the species from unregulated hunting. During the following 26 years of "regulated" cougar hunting in Oregon the annual hunting mortality numbers steadily increased from 6 in 1967 to a high of 187 in 1992.

Photo of hounds.

In 1994 voters approved Measure 18 which banned the use of hounds to hunt cougars. Since hound-hunting is recognized as the most efficient method to hunt cougars, many proponents of Measure 18 saw it as a way to effectively reduce the number of cougars killed annually by sport hunters. Immediately following Measure 18's passage, sport hunting related cougar mortalities declined dramatically statewide (22 in 1995).

To offset these sport hunting mortality declines, ODFW lengthened the hunting season to year-round in some regions, significantly reduced the cost of a cougar hunting tag for Oregon residents, increased annual hunting quotas, increased the bag limit, and issued an unlimited number of hunting tags - more than 43,000 cougar hunting tags were sold in 2009.

As a result, sport-hunting related cougar mortalities have increased to record highs despite the ban on using hounds.

At this time, sport-hunting in Oregon accounts for approximately 275 cougar mortalities annually. These high cougar mortality numbers do not include the almost equally high "non-hunter"(3) caused cougar mortalities which have also occurred since 2007, and were exceeded only four times (1929, 1930, 1932, and 1937) during Oregon's bounty period when hunters were paid to kill cougars.

These new cougar hunting policies have also resulted in a possible shift in the age and gender dynamics of Oregon's remaining cougar population. According to a 2005 ODFW Cougar Status Report, "As a result of changes to hunting season structure, Oregon has seen a change in characteristics of harvested cougars. Prior to 1994, hunters tended to be more selective for males and tended to take older animals."

Despite ODFW's contention of a healthy and stable cougar population in Oregon, the facts appear to refute this claim.

In addition to ODFW's efforts to negate Measure 18's minimal protections, political actions were immediately undertaken to remove or nullify the citizen-placed ballot measure. They started the following year with a new ballot measure to repeal Measure 18. When that failed, there began a multitude of political and legislative attacks which have continued almost annually.

In 2007, the Oregon legislature successfully passed new legislation in the name of "public safety" which authorized ODFW to increase the annual number of cougars killed by "deputizing" hound-hunters to kill cougars from designated counties. The stated goal of this five-year program is to reduce Oregon's cougar population to population levels prior to Measure 18 (3,000). Between 2007 and 2009, this "administrative removal" program accounted for an additional 645 cougar mortalities.

ODFW does not believe that these draconian efforts to reduce the state's cougar population have been effective because they are seeking renewal of the program for an additional five-year period. ODFW bases this decision on their inability to attain a proposed annual cougar mortality quota of 777 animals. They see the less-than-projected cougar mortality numbers as evidence of population growth. After all, they surmise, if the full 777 batch of cougars isn't being killed, then the supposed "excess" must be adding to the remaining population base and breeding to increase the population exponentially. ODFW refuses to accept that an opposing and more logical hypothesis might instead be true: the decrease in both sport-hunting and non-hunter mortality numbers (despite ODFW's best efforts) reflects a shrinking cougar population — not an increasing population as they surmise.

Oregon's Cougar Management Plan

Oregon's first Cougar Management Plan was developed in 1987 with revisions in 1993, 1998, and 2006. According to a 2008 ODFW report on the status of Oregon's cougars, the 2006 revision established "5 guiding objectives for cougar management in Oregon:

  1. ODFW will manage for a cougar population that is at or above the 1994 level of approximately 3,000 cougars statewide.
  2. ODFW will proactively manage cougar-human conflicts as measured by non-hunting mortalities and ODFW may take management actions to reduce the cougar population.
  3. ODFW will proactively manage cougar-human safety/pet conflicts as measured by human safety/pet complaints and ODFW may take management action to reduce the cougar population.
  4. ODFW will proactively manage cougar-livestock conflicts as measured by non-hunting mortalities and livestock damage complaints and ODFW may take management actions to reduce the cougar population.
  5. ODFW will proactively manage cougar populations in a manner compatible and consistent with management objectives for other game mammals outlined in ODFW management plans.

Within these objectives, a number of zone-specific criteria are established that trigger management actions and are used to monitor progress toward objectives. Proactive management of cougars may include intensive, administrative removal of cougars in targeted areas where zone specific criteria have been met."

As you can see, "proactive management," while sounding responsible and scientific, merely means "reduce the cougar population." ODFW's so-called proactive cougar management plan is in reality a set of directives for the elimination of the species in Oregon. We believe that ODFW's statement of intent to maintain Oregon's cougar population at 1994 levels is a public relations attempt to placate Measure 18 supporters, and is little more than a meaningless slogan to justify the killings.

Their management plan is fundamentally flawed because:

  • First, ODFW's 1994 population estimate of 3,000 cougar is in dispute. A 1997 report by the Predator Defense Institute enumerated numerous deficiencies in the statewide cougar population estimates formulated by ODFW and argued that the agency biased its reporting of cougar sightings and incidents to support claims that the cougar population was growing significantly.
  • Second, ODFW is basing its current actions to aggressively reduce Oregon's cougar population on a crude computer model which does not accurately reflect the complexity of what is happening on the ground.

Arguments Disputing ODFW's Cougar Population Estimate

Between 1918 and 1961 (Oregon's recorded cougar bounty period) 6,762 cougar carcasses were turned in for a bounty. During this 44-year period, the annual cougar mortality numbers only exceeded the 300 level three times, with the all time high of 375 reached in 1937. In fact, the 200 to 300 mortality level was reached only eight times. For almost a third of this 44-year period the annual cougar mortality numbers never even reached 100; and this wasn't just at the end when Oregon's cougar population had basically been wiped out.

A comparable time period of regulated hunting has now passed (1967 to 2009 — the last year of records released by ODFW). During these 43-years, 7,468 cougars (4) were reported killed.

In 2008 neighboring Washington state (which in 1996 passed similar legislation to Measure 18, and whose state wildlife agency followed ODFW's game plan of numerous, cheap cougar hunting tags and long hunt seasons) reported a nearly 40 percent drop in the state's cougar population from five years previous.(5) The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife posits that this drastic decline might be a direct result of current hunting policies which have caused a "shift to harvesting more females and younger animals."

The questions one must ask are these:

  • If killing 6,762 cougars over a 44-year time period once almost wiped out the cougar population in Oregon, why does ODFW believe that killing 7,468 cougars over the past 43 years of regulated cougar hunting hasn't produced similar results?
  • If a nearby state with similar habitat (Washington) has the same cougar hunting restrictions, as well as analogous cougar hunting policies (without the additional administrative removal plan), and that state's policies and actions have resulted in a significant reduction in their cougar population, why does ODFW believe that similar results are not taking place in Oregon?
 
Graph of human-caused cougar mortality in Oregon.

Citations:

  1. APHIS 2008 Oregon Report
  2. extirpate - syn exterminate; 1) to pull up by the roots; root out; 2) to destroy or remove completely; exterminate; extinguish; abolish; 3) the local extinction of a species.
  3. Non-Hunter Harvest numbers include depredation kills; administrative removals; public safety actions.
  4. Includes Non-Hunter Harvest numbers
  5. WDFW 2003 max estimate 4,000 cougars, 2008 max estimate 2,500 cougars


Last Update: February 14, 2012

Who Owns the Wildlife?

12/21/11 GUEST COMMENTARY: John W. Laundré, Cougar Biologist
State University of New York at Oswego

A cougar biologist takes a strong stand on the real value of wildlife. In this important opinion piece, John Laundré considers the public cost of wildlife mismanagement, and the consequences of bureaucratic decisions that fail to consider the public good and the intrinsic value of wild predators.

OREGON MOUNTAIN LIONS: LAW & REGULATION


In Oregon's legal code, Puma concolor is generally referred to as "cougar."

Species Status

The species is classified as a game mammal, along with antelope, black bear, deer, elk, moose, mountain goat, mountain sheep, silver gray squirrel, and gray wolf as a special status mammal defined by commission rule. Laws pertaining to Oregon's threatened and endangered species can be applied to mountain lions because the laws apply to all wildlife native to Oregon. However, Oregon does not consider mountain lions to be threatened or endangered because the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission does not believe that the lions' natural reproductive potential is in danger of failure due to limited population numbers, disease, predation or other natural or human actions affecting their continued existence.

State Law

Generally, treatment of wildlife in the State of Oregon is governed by the Oregon Revised Statutes - the state's collection of all the laws passed by its legislature. Wildlife treatment is also managed by regulations in the Oregon Administrative Rules - the collection of all the state agency rules. Since our summary below may not be completely up to date, you should be sure to review the most current law for the State of Oregon.

You can check the statutes directly at a state-managed website: https://www.oregonlegislature.gov/bills_laws/Pages/ORS.aspx These statutes are searchable. Be sure to use the name "cougar" to accomplish your searches.

The Legislature

The Oregon Legislative Assembly is a bicameral legislative body. The lower chamber — the House of Representatives — consists of 60 members who serve 2-year terms. The upper chamber — the Senate — consists of 30 members who serve 4-year terms. Information on how to contact your member of the Oregon House of Representatives can be found here while information on how to contact your state senator can be found here

The Oregon Legislative Assembly's regular sessions convene on the first day of February each year — unless February begins on a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, in which case the session convenes on the following Monday. The Oregon Constitution limits the duration of regular sessions in odd-numbered years to 160 calendar days and 35 calendar days in even-numbered years. However, the Oregon Constitution also allows the legislature to extend regular sessions by five days with the approval of two-thirds of the members of each chamber and does not limit the number of times a session may be extended. The legislature may also meet in organizational sessions, the duration of which the constitution does not limit, in order to set legislative rules. Special sessions may be called by the governor or by the majority of the members of each legislative chamber. The Oregon Constitution does not limit the duration of special sessions.

Initiative and Referendum Processes

Oregon is one of 24 states that allow voters to directly affect the state's laws through direct democracy. Initiatives allow voters to institute either new laws or constitutional amendments, while Oregon's veto referendums allow citizens to overturn existing laws. Article IV of the Oregon Constitution establishes the initiative and referendum processes, and Chapter 250 of the Oregon Revised Statutes governs the processes. Initiatives and referendums are placed on the ballot after the required number of valid registered voters' signatures are collected. The required number changes after each gubernatorial election because the number is a percentage of the number of votes cast for the office of governor in the last general election: valid signatures equal to 8% of the number of votes cast is required for an initiative proposing a constitutional amendment, 6% for initiatives proposing a law, and 4% for a veto referendum. Oregon's Initiatives and referendums require a simple majority in order to pass unless they would change the state's voting rules, in which case they require a three-fifths supermajority. All voter-approved initiatives and referendums take effect 30 days after the election.

Measure 18

The Oregon Ban on Baited Bear Hunting and Cougar Hunting with Dogs Act — presented to voters as Measure 18 — is a state law that was proposed through the initiative process and approved on November 8, 1994. 51.79% of voters supported the measure. Measure 18 banned the use of bait to hunt black bears and the use of dogs to hunt black bears and mountain lions in Oregon.

State Regulation

Oregon's Department of Fish and Wildlife regulations are found in the Oregon Administrative Rules. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission sets the state's wildlife regulations.

Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission is a 7-member board appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Oregon Senate. One member must be appointed from each of the state's congressional districts. The commission must have one member who resides east of the Cascade Mountains and one member who resides west of the Cascade Mountains. All commissioners must have knowledge of fish and wildlife issues, and each commissioner represents the public interest. The commission formulates policies for the management and conservation of fish and wildlife, sets hunting and fishing bag limits, and regulates the allowed methods of hunting and fishing.

Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW)

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) implements the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission's management and conservation strategies. Unlike in other states, the ODFW does not enforce the state's wildlife laws. That responsibility has instead been delegated to the Oregon State Police.

Management Plan

Oregon issues a management plan for its mountain lion population. The state's current plan is the 2006 Oregon Cougar Management Plan. The plan was written by ODFW biologists and guides commission policy for mountain lion management. State policy requires the ODFW to review the plan at least once every five years and recommend any changes that may be needed.

Hunting Law

Hunting of mountain lions is allowed in the State of Oregon. The regulations governing "recreational" hunting of mountain lions specify 67 wildlife units organized into 6 zones for mountain lion hunting. Mountain lion hunting season runs from January 1 to December 31 unless a hunting zone's quota is met earlier.

Hound hunting is generally not allowed. However, the ODFW may appoint specific hunters to act as the department's agents in order to manage the state's mountain lion populations. These hunters may use dogs while they are acting as the department's agents.

Oregon allows the hunting of mountain lions with any centerfire rifle that is .22 caliber or larger and not fully automatic, any shotgun using number 1 or larger buckshot or slugs, muzzleloaders that are .40 caliber or larger, and any centerfire handgun .22 caliber or larger. Semiautomatic rifles used to hunt mountain lions may only hold up to five cartridges in their magazines. Oregon also allows the use of longbows, recurve bows, and compound bows with a 40-pound or heavier pull rating.

Oregon's mountain lion hunting quotas are set by the Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission and included in its section of department regulations. It is illegal to hunt spotted kittens and females accompanied by kittens.

Public Safety Law

Oregon law allows any person to kill a mountain lion that poses a threat to human safety. The killing must be immediately reported to "a person authorized to enforce wildlife laws." Oregon regulation requires that the carcass be turned over to the ODFW and no portion of the carcass may be retained by the person who killed the mountain lion.

Depredation Law

Oregon law allows any person to kill a depredating mountain lion without a permit from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. If the individual killing the lion is not the landowner or its occupant, they must have written permission from the landowner or occupant. Like the killing of a mountain lion to protect human life, the killing must be immediately reported to "a person authorized to enforce wildlife laws." Oregon regulation requires that the carcass be turned over to the ODFW and no portion of the carcass may be retained by the person who killed the mountain lion. Owners of domestic animals do not appear to be required to take certain steps to protect their pets or livestock. There does not appear to be a government-funded compensation program for losses of domestic animals to mountain lions

Trapping

Mountain lions may not be trapped for fur in Oregon. Oregon does not include mountain lions on its list of fur-bearing mammals.

Poaching

Poaching law in the State of Oregon provides some protection of mountain lions in law, but only as a deterrent. It is rare for penalties to be sufficiently harsh to keep poachers from poaching again. Oregon law states that the violation of any of the state's wildlife laws by a person with a "culpable mental state" is a class A misdemeanor. A class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year of imprisonment and a fine of up to $6,250. The ODFW director may also pursue civil damages against the poacher, but the regulation does not state how much may be sought.

Road Mortalities

The Oregon Department of Transportation does not keep records of mountain lions killed on the State's roads.

Last Update: June 4, 2014