Wolves, cougars, and other critters have been prospering throughout the Pacific Northwest in recent years. Whether it’s legal hunting restrictions, a voter-mandated reintroduction, or a protected status, what were once rare sightings, even in the wild and wide-open spaces of Oregon and Washington, have become more common. What are the next steps to protect livestock, livelihoods, and people? That all depends on who you ask.
Suburbia and areas where families recreate have had their fair share of wildlife encroachment in recent years.
Sometimes those encounters turn deadly.
According to Oregon state officials, an Oregon woman was attacked and killed by a cougar in the Mount Hood National Forest in late 2018. Recently in Washington, a cougar attacked a pair of cyclists near Seattle, killing one of the riders. Then, in February of 2019, a 135-pound cougar was killed by state officials in Bend after it had been hunting deer in and around one of the city’s neighborhoods, according to the Bend Bulletin.
Cougar Numbers on the Rise
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) estimates that there are 6,700 cougars in Oregon. In Washington, official counts by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) are just over 2,000.
While the big cats were abundant throughout the two-state region back in the late 1800s, their numbers dwindled as farming and logging grew. It’s estimated that there were less than 500 cougars by 1960.
Wolves Move Back In
Wolves have had a very similar ebb and flow to their populations. Wolves became an endangered species throughout the United States as more livestock was raised and farms dotted the land. In the Pacific Northwest, they were all-but eradicated as people began taming the landscape and moving to the area.
Legal reintroductions, as well as hunting restrictions and wolf migration, have bolstered population growth over the past decade. Today, the WDFW estimates there are upwards of 400 wolves roaming the state. In Oregon, those numbers are closer to 120.
For many ranchers, farmers, and landowners, those numbers are too high. In addition, ranchers and others are running into wolves in areas where the predators are not believed to have migrated.
One Central Oregon rancher has seen plenty of wolves on his vast, high-desert, cattle ranch.
“We’re seeing them with some degree of frequency,” the rancher said. “It’s very worrisome. They’re magnificent animals, but they’re problematic. Yes, there is a compensation program to pay for livestock losses but finding that animal is like finding a needle in a haystack.”
On a ranch covering thousands of acres of high desert, protecting every cow is nearly impossible. Moreover, encouraging cows to get pregnant and put on weight can be very difficult when those same animals know they’re being hunted.
“When a cow is always alert, they’re less likely to get pregnant or gain weight.”
According to the ranch owner, that cuts into profits.
“The wolves are not afraid of us. The cougars are not afraid of us either.”
That fact has encouraged leaders on both sides of the wolf and cougar issue to make changes to current policies as they pertain to livestock, people, pets, suburban settings, and wildlife conservation, including elk and deer.
ODFW staff, along with influential ranchers, hunters, and conservationists have been working on revisions to the state’s Wolf Conservation and Management Plan. There are hopes that the new plan can be finalized and implemented in 2019. Additionally, some are hoping to change the law that restricts the hunting of cougars with dogs.
Where There are Deer, there are Predators
Cougars and wolves are carnivores. They kill and eat deer, elk, and anything else that looks good, including livestock and pets.
Michelle Dennehy, Spokeswoman with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife said, “Anytime there is habitat and pray, there is likely to be a cougar nearby.”
Experts warn against feeding and inviting deer onto your ranch, farm, or neighborhood for this very reason.
In 2018, 37 cougars were killed for public safety concerns in Oregon, and 177 were killed due to livestock damage.
But seeing a cougar or a wolf is not cause for alarms, say officials with both state agencies.
In both Oregon and Washington, it is illegal to shoot a wolf except in defense of human life. Cougars, on the other hand, are less protected. However, any cougar that is killed should be reported to either the ODFW or WDFW. Additionally, hunting of cougars is allowed with the right license.
Encountering a Wolf or Cougar
State agencies have some helpful advice when it comes to keeping wolves and cougars away from you and your property or neighborhood.
Don’t feed cougars or wolves.
Don’t feed other wildlife. When you encourage deer and other small animals (raccoons, etc.) you’re making them less afraid of people and other predators. Wolves and cougars will take notice and start hunting them.
Secure your food when camping. As with bears, be sure you secure your food so that it does not lure wolves or cougars into your area.
Keeps dogs on a leash when camping.
Avoid walking alone. This is a good idea to avoid contact with bears as well.
Finding Answers Together
As landowners, ranchers, loggers, homeowners, and those working to protect wildlife strive to find solutions and a middle ground, the folks at Coastal are here to help protect your slice of the Northwest with fencing and more. Stop by your Northwest owned and operated Coastal where you’ll find just what the country needs.