Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Oregon cougar hunter gears up for move

By Damian Mann
Mail Tribune, Oregon

Jackson County could OK his contract on Wednesday

A part-time cougar hunter could soon roam Jackson County's rural areas under a new program designed to eliminate problem predators.

Cricket Peyton, who currently lives in Curry County, would move here to take the job of wildlife specialist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Jackson County commissioners are expected to approve a contract with the USDA Wednesday that would provide $30,000 toward hiring a government hunter.

Peyton will deal with problem animals such as coyotes and raccoons and help property owners learn how to control predators.

Hank Collins, Jackson County's director of health and human services, said, "the whole emphasis (of the program) is to provide a resource to people who are having difficulty with cougars."

County commissioners have backed the proposal. They say that cougars have become more brazen in recent years, and concerns have risen that a cougar could attack a human.

David Williams, state director of the USDA's wildlife services, said Peyton is looking for a place to live in Jackson County and has already contacted some residents who have been having cougar problems.

Peyton worked in Jackson County temporarily last year under a $5,000 contract. He is the son of Alvie Peyton, who was wildlife specialist for the county when it ended the program in 1992.

"It's a chance to go home," said Williams.

Under the agreement with Jackson County, Peyton would receive $21,600 in salaries and benefits but would be an employee of the federal government.

The balance of the $30,000 would pay for truck rental, expenses and reimbursement for all-terrain vehicle and dog expenses.

Williams said his office will negotiate with landfills, road departments, livestock associations and other parties that are having problems with wildlife.

He said the funds from Jackson County, along with other potential contracts, could provide a basis for transforming the position into a full-time job.

Jackson County's share of the money, could disappear, however, if it loses $23 million from the federal government in annual timber relief revenues.

Williams said that Peyton is making a considerable effort to move here, so dropping the funding "wouldn't be a very good scenario for Cricket."

Sally Mackler, wildlife chairwoman for the Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club, said the county is in no position to be spending $30,000 on a program to hunt cougars, which she noted caused less than $13,000 in damage within the Rogue River watershed last year.

"There will be a lot more spent to try and track down these problem cougars than the damage that has occurred as a result of them," she said.

Mackler said it is difficult to imagine spending the money in a county that needs more sheriff patrols, more assistance for the elderly and disabled, and more effort to tackle the growing drug problem.

She said the county needs to do more to educate property owners how to protect themselves and their livestock.

"Lethal control should be viewed as an absolute last resort," she said. "They will use lethal control as a major tool in their toolbox."

She said traps and lethal poisons pose a danger to children and other residents.

Williams said no poisons would be used to kill cougars. Although the state does allow pesticide use for coyotes, Williams said that as part of the agreement with Jackson County pesticides would not be used here.

Hounds could be used in cases where property owners agree to let the wildlife specialist on their land. But Williams said several kinds of traps could be used.

Cougar problems have plagued certain parts of Jackson County in the past few years, but have tapered off this year. Williams said cougar problems ebb and flow because the animals cover a large territory. This year, he said, cougars have been killing more livestock in Douglas County.

The USDA contract is not connected with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife's plan to kill up to 24 cougars over the next year. Those animals would be killed to test whether killing cougars may increase deer and elk herds.

Until Cricket Peyton gets established in Jackson County, Williams said local residents can report cougar sightings or other problems to Michael Burrell, manager of the USDA district office in Roseburg, at 541-679-1231.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or local/stories/cougarhunter.htm

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