It is a nickname richly deserved.
Cougars are frequently called “mountain ghosts’’ because they are stealth-like creatures rarely seen in the open like deer and elk. Monitoring their population levels precisely is thus impossible, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Pat Matthews, who is based in Enterprise.
Still, despite the secretive nature of cougars, it is safe to assume that Northeast Oregon’s big cat population remained at least stable in 2008, Matthews said.Statistics released by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife indicate that total cougar mortality in Northeast Oregon in 2008 was close to what it was in 2007. Records show that in 2008 a total of 171 cougars were killed in the Blue Mountains Cougar Management Quota Zone, only 11 fewer than in 2007.
The 2008 total includes 110 cougars taken by hunters and 61 others recorded as having been killed. Cougars included in the “non-hunter’’ mortality category include those shot because they were a threat to people or property and those fatally injured in collisions with motor vehicles.
The ODFW’s cougar quota for the Blue Mountains zone was 245. This means that another 74 cougars could have been killed in the zone in 2008 before the ODFW would have closed the season in the zone. People can normally hunt cougars in Oregon each year from Jan. 1 through May 31 and from Aug. 1 to Dec. 31.
The Blue Mountains Cougar Management Quota Zone includes all units in Union, Wallowa and Baker counties. The units on the western border of the Blue Mountains Zone are the Ochoco, Heppner, Walla Walla and Ukiah units.
The reasons for the slight decline in cougar mortality in 2008 was not reduced hunter success. Hunters took the same number of cougars in 2007 as 2008. However, 11 fewer were killed in the Blue Mountains Zone for reasons outside of hunter harvest.
At least 90 percent of the cougars hunters killed were those taken incidentally, Matthews said. These hunters were pursuing deer, elk or other wildlife when they encountered a cougar accidentally. The hunters, who had cougar tags, then shot the mountain lions.
A small number of hunters took cougars after specifically pursuing them. They drew them in with calls or waited by a carcass waiting for a cougar to come in.
Hunting cougars has been difficult since 1994 when voters approved a ballot measure banning the use of dogs when hunting cougars.
ODFW statistics indicate that the following number of cougars were taken by hunters annually in the past six years — 2002: 102, 2003:116, 2004:131, 2005:90 and 2006: 126.
In the Columbia Basin Zone, total cougar mortality was 35 in 2008, down 12 from 2007. Columbia Basin hunters took 19 cougars in 2007 and 16 in 2008. This zone consists of the Fossil, Grizzly, Biggs, Columbia Basin and Maupin units.
Total cougar mortality was also down in the Southeast Zone, where 57 mountain lions were killed in 2008, 12 less than in 2007. Southeast Zone hunters took 35 cougars in 2008 and 43 in 2007. The Southeast Zone is comprised of the Beaulah, Owyee, Whitehorse, Beatys Butte, Juniper, Wagontire, Maury, Silvies, Malheur and Warner units.
Total cougar mortality in Oregon in 2008 was 487, up 30 from 2007.
Additional information is available at the ODFW’s web site: www.dfw.state.or.us.