Friday, September 22, 2006

Oregon county funds cougar hunter

Media Source: Mail Tribune (Oregon)
Author: By Damian Mann

The desicion followed some salty comments from people on both sides

After a few testy exchanges with audience members Wednesday, Jackson County commissioners unanimously approved spending $30,000 for a part-time cougar hunter.

One unidentified woman walked out of the meeting and shouted, "Shame on you," as commissioners concluded their voting.

The $30,000 will pay for a contract with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which will hire wildlife specialist Cricket Peyton to kill cougars or bears when they pose a threat to human safety or attack pets or domestic animals.

About 10 opponents and supporters presented their case to commissioners, who quickly fought back criticism of the cougar hunter program.

"To infer I like killing animals — that's a last resort," said Commissioner C.W. Smith.

Ashland resident Jim Bowne said he was disgusted that the county was entertaining a plan to kill cougars.

"I propose the commissioners satisfy their bloodlust by volunteering for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and be shot at while trying to kill others," he said.

Commissioner Jack Walker, responding to comments like Bowne's, offered to buy a one-way ticket for any local resident that would prefer to live in another country.

He said some of the charges were "absolutely ridiculous" and added the hiring of a wildlife specialist is a response to a very real danger in the county.

"I'm not going to sit around and wait for some child to get killed by a cougar," he said.

Stephanie Tidwell, executive director of the Ashland-based Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center, said, "This is a fictitious, orchestrated crisis."

She said there has never been a cougar-caused human fatality in Oregon. "The facts don't matter and the citizens don't matter," she said.

Opponents argued that the $30,000 would be better spent on sheriff's patrols or health services.

But supporters such as Ashland rancher Don Ellsworth said there is a danger to people and property from predators. He's lost beehives to bears, a sheep to coyotes and cattle to cougars.

Unlike the picture painted by opponents of the plan, Ellsworth said, many of these predators "kill for the fun of killing."

He said the opponents have a "Disneyland" point of view of the situation. "They don't really deal with the reality," he said.

Sally Mackler, wildlife chairwoman for the Oregon chapter of the Sierra Club, said the commissioners were "plundering" the county's general fund to pay for the program, which prompted a brief exchange with Smith.

"You're so adamant that we're being pickpocketed," said Smith.

"We are being pickpocketed," responded Mackler.

She said the county is spending $30,000 to hunt cougars that she said caused $13,000 in damage in three Oregon counties last year.

Even though commissioners have decided to make education of property owners a part of the wildlife specialist program, she said the USDA Wildlife Management Services Program is not the right agency to handle it.

"They are not an education program," she said. "They are a killing organization."

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 to test whether killing cougars may increase deer and elk herds.

Central Point resident Bryan Baumgartner supported the idea of a cougar hunter, saying he's seen a decrease in game animals while hunting.

He said the number of cougars has increased, and it's only a matter of time before someone is attacked.

"It will only be then, unfortunately, that when a city resident is injured that we may see some movement to manage this cougar population appropriately," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com.

http://www.mountainlion.org/newsroom_article.asp?news_id=501

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