MOUNTAIN LION HUNTING WILL BE INCREASED DUE TO GROWING POPULATION

November 11, 2004 11:00 pm

By Dick Mason

The Observer

Cougar hunters in Eastern Oregon will have additional opportunities to test their skills in 2005.

The reason: the portion of Eastern Oregon in which people will be able to take two cougars in one season has been significantly expanded. Beginning Jan. 1 it will include all of Eastern Oregon.

Presently the only Eastern Oregon zone in which hunters can take two cougars is the Blue Mountain Cougar Quota Hunt Zone. This extends from Wallowa and Baker counties into a portion of Crook County.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission recently added the Southeast Cascades, Columbia Basin and Southeast Oregon zones to the ones in which hunters will be able to take an additional cougar in the 2005 season.

Presently anyone who takes a cougar can then get an "additional tag'' to hunt another cougar during the same season. Hunters, though, can only use the "additional tag'' in the Blue Mountain Zone. The rule change will mean hunters can soon use their additional tag in all of Eastern Oregon.

The rule change is meant to help the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife better control Oregon's growing cougar population. The state's cougar population is believed to have been expanding since 1995, the first full year in which hunters were not allowed to use dogs to hunt mountain lions. The ban went into effect because of a statewide ballot measure approved by voters.

Some ODFW biologists, including Vic Coggins of Enterprise, believe that falling elk calf survival rates are

a direct result of rising cougar

populations.

Preliminary findings of a study being led by ODFW Biologist Bruce Johnson suggests that cougars are playing a significant role in elk calf predation. In 2003 Johnson's team found that cougars were responsible for 60 percent of the deaths of elk calves monitored in the Wenaha Unit. In the Sled Springs Unit, cougars were responsible for 30 percent of the deaths of the elk calves monitored, according to a story in the July 2, 2004 Observer.

The "additional cougar'' regulation change will undoubtedly help increase the number of cougars taken in 2005. ODFW statistics indicate that in 2003 a total of 241 cougars were taken by hunters. Most of these were taken by people hunting deer and elk who encountered cougars incidentally, according to the ODFW's report.

ODFW statistics indicate that from the 1992-93 season through 2003, a total of 1,764 cougars had been taken by hunters in Oregon. The number was 144 in 1994-95, the last season that dogs were allowed for cougar hunting.

The hunter harvest fell to 31 in 1995-96. The number has risen since then because the length of the season has expanded and rules have been

liberalized.

In the 2003 season, 241 cougars were taken in Oregon by hunters, the most since the ban on the use of dogs. Of the 241 cougars taken, some 114 were killed in the Blue Mountain Zone.

The quota for hunters in the Blue Mountain Zone was 123 in 2003 and is 135 this year. It will be 139 in 2005.