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.

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History

European Settlement

Cougars are native to all of Oregon and historically have been prevalent and widespread across the landscape there.

Mountain lions are native to Oregon, and as happened in so many other states, when settlers began to arrive, mountain lions began to decline. Settlers considered mountain lions a danger to humans and livestock and also competitors for the native game like deer and elk.

The settlers set up a ferocious predator removal effort of endless trapping and hunting. ‘Wolf meetings’ were a common event in local towns, where the inhabitants would come together to discuss what to do about mountain lions and other predators, which always involved more predator killing.

Fur Trade

Fur was the first natural resource to be recognized and exploited in what is now Oregon. Fur were an extremely valuable commodity of international trade as beaver and otter pelts, specifically, were in high demand in Europe and China. One of the objectives of the Lewis and Clark expedition was to find and map wildlife populations and find waterways to access the territories. Because of the great profits that were reported to be made, the first settlements in Oregon were fur trading outposts established by competing fur trading companies.

At first, traders in Oregon acquired furs by bartering with the local Native Americans but as word got out about the rich fur resources available, big fur companies such as Hudson’s Bay Company and American Fur Company began to employ their own professional trappers. It didn’t take long to start depleting fur-bearer populations in Oregon and the entire Northwest and by 1824 some fur companies began to employ a strategy called ‘trapping out’ which meant intentionally eliminating beavers and other fur-bearers from Oregon territory to keep rivals from moving in. By the late 1800’s, the fur trade was essentially played out, fur-bearers depleted and Native Americans more dependent on outside food sources and no longer able to live off the land around which their entire cultures had been based.

Bounty

In 1843 a bounty program was called on cougars in the Oregon Territory. The bounty continued for 44 years and was discontinued in 1961 by the State of Oregon for a lack of cougars – only 28 cougar carcasses were turned in that year. The first year mortality records were available was 1918 and between that year and 1961, a total of 6,762 cougars were killed and turned in for bounty. In 1961 it was estimated that Oregon’s cougar population had dropped to only 200 animals and were in danger of extirpation.

In 1843 a bounty program was called on cougars in the Oregon Territory. The bounty continued for 44 years and was discontinued in 1961 by the State of Oregon for a lack of cougars – only 28 cougar carcasses were turned in that year. The first year mortality records were available was 1918 and between that year and 1961, a total of 6,762 cougars were killed and turned in for bounty. In 1961 it was estimated that Oregon’s cougar population had dropped to only 200 animals and were in danger of extirpation.

Sport and Recreational Hunting

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.

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.

A recent estimate by ODFW claims the state’s mountain lion population has increased to 6,300 individuals.

Status

Legal Status

  • Classified as a game animal.
  • 1994: Voters passed Measure 18, banning the use of hounds to hunt cougars

Estimated population: While there may be as few as 2,500, ODFW lists the population at 6,000. ODFW reports some of the highest cougar densities in the U.S., but this is highly controversial. Unlike other states, ODFW includes kittens in its estimate.

Annual trophy kills: 327 in 2019


Oregon’s first Cougar Management Plan was developed in 1987 with revisions in 1993, 1998, 2006, and 2017. 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 cougars 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.

Today, ODFW’s estimate of 6,600 cougars in Oregon would indicate a cougar density roughly 2.5 times that of neighboring Washington and is widely believed by biologists to be overstated. Given the available habitat and results from scientific research conducted in Washington showing roughly 5 independent cougars per 100 square miles, the Mountain Lion Foundation would estimate fewer than 3,000 independent adult cougars in the State of Oregon.

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?

Citations

  • APHIS 2008 Oregon Report
  • 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.
  • Non-Hunter Harvest numbers include depredation kills; administrative removals; public safety actions.
  • Includes Non-Hunter Harvest numbers
  • ODFW 2003 max estimate 4,000 cougars, 2008 max estimate 2,500 cougars

Habitat

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.

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.

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.

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.

Action

There are currently no Action Alerts for Oregon. Be sure to check back often for action items in the state!

Story Map

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Library

Oregon Cougar Files Sorted by Type

Scientific Research

  • Carroll, C. (2000). An evaluation of the biological feasibility of restoring wolf, wolverine, and grizzly bear to oregon and california, (July).
  • Chinitz, A. (2014). Laying the groundwork for public participation in cougar management: a case study of southwestern oregon, 4441, 33062.
  • Davidson, G. A., Clark, D. A., Johnson, B. K., Waits, L. P., & Adams, J. R. (2014). Estimating cougar densities in northeast Oregon using conservation detection dogs. Journal of Wildlife Management, 78(6), 1104–1114. https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.758
  • Johnson, B., & Jackson, D. (2001). Evaluating the effects of predation and nutrition on recruitment of elk in Oregon, (December).
  • Keister Jr, G. P., & Van Dyke, W. a. (2002). A predictive population model for cougars in Oregon. Northwest Science, 76(l), 15–25.
  • Keister, G. P. (n.d.). A Predictive Population Model for Cougars in Oregon.
  • Longcore, T. (2013). Technical Review of Draft 2005 Oregon Cougar Management Plan, (310).
  • Maser, C., & Rohweder, R. S. (1983). Winter food habits of cougars from northeastern Oregon. Great Basin Naturalist, 43(3), 425–428.
  • ODFW. (1994). Cougar Damage Complaints by Year.
  • ODFW. (2003). OREGON ’ S ELK MANAGEMENT February 2003.
  • Toweill, D. E., & Maser, C. (1985). Food of cougars in the Cascade Range of Oregon. Great Basin Naturalist, 45(1), 77–84.
  • Toweill, D. E., & Meslow, E. C. (1977). Food Habits of Cougars in Oregon. J. Wildl. Manage., 44(3), 576–578. https://doi.org/10.1002/jwmg.ll6
  • Weilgus et al. (2009). Effects of Cougar Predation and Nutrition on Mule Deer Population Decline, (3), 2–3.

Agency Reports

Legal

  • US Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, Judge’s Opinion, Oregon Cougar Lawsuit Case 09-35541, 2010

Other

  • Associated Press, 2004, Wildlife Officer has to Kill Cougar, After Goats are Attacked
  • Associated Press, 2005, Bill to Loosen Cougar Hunting Rules Loses Steam
  • Associated Press, 2005, Draft Plan Calls for Increase in Cougar Harvest
  • Associated Press, 2005, Pesty Cougar Rekindles Interest in Government Trappers
  • Associated Press, 2006, Hunters Becoming an Endangered Species
  • Associated Press, 2006, Oregon Hopes to Trim Rising Cougar Population
  • Associated Press, 2007, Group Blasts Governor for Signing Cougar Bill
  • Associated Press, 2007, Opponent; Cougar-Bear Bill Violates Spirit of Oregon Initiative
  • Associated Press, 2007, Opponents, Cougar-Bear Bill Violates Spirit of Oregon Initiative
  • Associated Press, 2007, Oregon Wildlife Biologist Seek to Expand Cougar Hunting Zone
  • Associated Press, 2007, Two Southern Oregon Cougars Killed for Study
  • Associated Press, 2008, Farmers Say Cougars Killing More Livestock
  • Associated Press, 2008, Oregon Lawmakers Keeping Tabs on Cougar Killing
  • Associated Press, 2008, Oregon Teen Cited for Wounding Cougar
  • Associated Press, 2008, Oregon Wildlife Biologists Create New Cougar Traps
  • Associated Press, 2006, Cougar Management Plan Drawing Plenty of Skepticism
  • Associated Press, 2004, Cougar Shot After Livestock Damage
  • Associated Press, 2007, Rural Areas Offer Guides to Newcomers
  • Baker City Herald Jacoby , 2006, Cougars; Hunters See More Success
  • Bend Weekly , 2007, Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Cat
  • Big Wildlife , 2007, Senate Passes Bill to Reinstate Barbaric Practice of Hounding Cougars
  • Capital Press , 2007, Senate Panel Moves Cougar Bill
  • Christan Science Monitor Knickerbocker , 2005, Wolf Comeback Turns Predator into Prey
  • Daily Argus Observer , 2006, Argus Editorial Missed the Mark
  • Daily Astorian , 2006, Cougar Youth Reports Another Sighting
  • Daily Astorian Eddy , 2005, Seaside Boy “Dive-Bombed” by Mountain Lion
  • Darling , 2006, Officials Kill 4 Cougars in 6 Weeks
  • Democrat-Herald , 2005, State Increases Cougar Hunt Tags
  • East Oregonian Lies , 2007, Senate Panel Moves Cougar Hunting Bill
  • Ferren , 2005, Cougar Contol
  • High Country News , 2006, Wilkison Lion Plan Draws Heat from Scientists, Enviros
  • High Country News Marston , 2000, Heard Around the West
  • High Country News McCord , 2005, Dogs Could Chase Big Cats Again
  • High Country News Trail , 2006, Killing Cougars is the Easy Choice
  • HineSight-Blog , 2007, Oregon Cougars (and Voters) Not Getting a Fair Shake
  • KATU , 2006, Cougar Cub Put Down Due to Poor Health
  • KATU , 2006, Footage of Sick Cougar Cub Before It Was Euthanized
  • KATU , 2008, Cougar Killed After Stalking Oregon Girls
  • KATU Harding , 2006, Time May Have Run Out for Cougar Cub
  • KING 5 News Brill , 2008, Cougar Stalks Students in Olympia Park
  • KOPB News Garnet , 2006, Wildlife Officals Begin Cougar Trapping Program
  • KTVL , 2007, Group of Local Ranchers and Farmers Oppose Cougar Killings
  • KTVL , 2007, More of Jackson County Could Be Opened Up to Cougar Hunting
  • KTVZ , 2006, Conservationists Attack Oregon’s Cougar Plan
  • KTVZ , 2007, Coexisting with Cougars
  • KVAL , 2006, Cougar Dead
  • Lehman , 2008, Wildlife Groups Call on State to Suspend Cougar Management Plan
  • Mail Tribune , 2007, Cougar Hearing Delayed
  • Mail Tribune Conrad , 2007, Cougar is Suspect in 4-H Ram’s Demise
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2007, Thinning Study Leads to First Cougar Kills
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2003, Oregon Cop Guilty of Wildlife Charges
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2005, Cougar Plan Impacts Jackson County
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2005, State Biologists to Inspect Suspected Cougar Prey
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2007, Cougars on the Prowl
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2007, Feds May Take on Cougar Kills
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2007, Proposed Expansion of Cougar Hunt Zone Studied
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2007, Sport Hunter Cougar Kills Reach Record
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2008, Medford Cougars’ Activities are Being Monitored
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2008, New Tool, Old Problem
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2008, Resident Kills Bold Cougar Near Wimer
  • Mail Tribune Jepsen , 2007, Oregon House Oks Cougar, Bear Hunting Methods
  • Mail Tribune Jepsen , 2007, Senate OKs Hound-hunt Cougar Kills
  • Mail Tribune Jepsen , 2007, Southern Oregon Contingent Speaks Against Cougar Bill
  • Mail Tribune Mann , 2006, Combating Cougar Kills
  • Mail Tribune Mann , 2006, Cougar Hunter Gears Up for Move
  • Mail Tribune Mann , 2006, County Wants to Hire Cougar Hunter
  • Mail Tribune Mann , 2007, Cougar Hearing Dominates County Budget Session
  • Mail Tribune Mann , 2008, Cougar Shot by Teen in Shady Cove
  • Mail Tribune Freeman , 2005, Cougar Debate Invites Different Solutions
  • Mail Tribune Jepsen , 2007, Bill Would OK Hunting Cougars with Canines
  • Medford, 2000,
  • New, 2000,
  • News Review , 2006, Three Counties Tapped as Cougar Plan Testing Grounds
  • News Review Duncan , 2007, Cougar Killed After Eating Pet Cat in Tiller
  • News Review Sowell , 2006, Oregon Cougar Killed After
  • News-Register , 2007, Cougar Spotted in Tice Woods Park
  • News-Times Dillman , 2008, Cougar Plan Part of Hatfield Hearing
  • Oregon Outdoor Journal , 2007, Oregon Cougar Hunting Under Fire
  • Pettes, Tanyos , 2008, Girl Safe After Beng Stalked by Cougar
  • Portland Indy Media , 2007, Cougar Bill Heading to the House Floor
  • Portland Indy Media Vincent , 2007, Coalition Vows to Stop Slaughter of Oregon’s Cougars
  • Public, 2000,
  • Register-Guard Baker , 2006, Cougar Tails; Two Orphaned Cubs are Spared from Euthanasia and Brought to Oregon Zoo in Portland
  • Register-Guard Moran , 2006, Cougar in Wrong Place at Wrong Time
  • Register-Guard Nolan , 2007, Police Investigate Cougar Sightings
  • Register-Guard Sachs , 2005, State’s Cougar Program a Fraud
  • Register-Guard Stahlberg , 2005, Close Encounter with Mother Cougar Turns Hunter into the Hunted
  • Salem Monthly Boyer , 2007, Lions and Cougars and Bears — Oh My
  • Science Now Morell , 2007, Oregon Cougars To Be Hounded
  • ScienceDaily , 2006, Cougar Predation Key To Ecosystem Health
  • SDGFP. , 1973, Mountain lion.
  • Silverton Appeal Traver , 2007, Small Group Learns about Dangers of Mountain Lions
  • Statesman Journal , 2005, Hunters Can Take Study Critters
  • Statesman Journal , 2006, Board is Expected to OK Cougar Plan
  • Statesman Journal , 2006, Cougar Advocated are Invited to Workshop
  • Statesman Journal , 2006, Panel OKs Plan to Kill Cougars
  • Statesman Journal , 2006, Urge State to Alter Plan for Cougar Management.
  • Statesman Journal , 2006, Oregon’s Cougar Management Plan; A Bad Choice for Oregon.
  • Statesman Journal , 2006, Cougars’ Threat Doen’t Justify Plan to Kill Them.
  • Statesman Journal , 2007, Hogan, Cougar “Experiment” is Killing Wildlife.
  • Statesman Journal , 2007, Learn About Cougar Issues
  • Statesman Journal , 2007, Next Tuesday Falls on Thursday This Week
  • Statesman Journal , 2007, Senate Approves Amended Cougar, Bear Hunting Legislation
  • Statesman Journal Bolner , 2005, State Park Near Keizer Reports Five Cougar Sightings in Summer
  • Statesman Journal Miller , 2007, Bill OKs Use of Dogs in Cougar, Bear Kills
  • Statesman Journal Miller , 2007, Dogs Could Be used to Hunt Cougars, Bears
  • Statesman Journal Moss , 2007, State Agency Wages War on Cougars
  • Sweet Home News , 2007, Cougar Problem is Something City Dwellers Don’t Comprehend
  • The Olympian , 2007, Learn About Mountain Lions
  • The Oregonian , 2005, Fewer Cougar Kills Puzzle Biologists
  • The Oregonian , 2005, Success Could Be Cougars’ Undoing
  • The Oregonian , 2006, Hunters Becoming an Endangered Species
  • The Oregonian , 2006, Porcupine in Decline, Biologists Opine
  • The Oregonian , 2007, Measure Would Let Hunters Use Dogs to Track Cougars, Bears
  • The Oregonian , 2008, State Sets Rules for Houndsmen to Hunt Cougars, Black Bears
  • The Oregonian Babcock , 2007, Lion-by-Lion Wildlife Study Learns About Numbers, Hunting
  • The Oregonian Bingham , 2007, Fuzzy Spring Lambs Easy Pickings for Predators
  • The Oregonian Cain , 2007, House Backs Allowing Volunteers to Use Dogs in Cougar Hunts
  • The Oregonian Kost , 2007, Senate Passes Bill to Relax Cougar Hunt Restrictions
  • The Pilot Weissman , 2008, Cougar Sighting